Articles | Volume 12, issue 4
Research article
15 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 15 Apr 2016

The biogeophysical climatic impacts of anthropogenic land use change during the Holocene

M. Clare Smith, Joy S. Singarayer, Paul J. Valdes, Jed O. Kaplan, and Nicholas P. Branch

Abstract. The first agricultural societies were established around 10 ka BP and had spread across much of Europe and southern Asia by 5.5 ka BP with resultant anthropogenic deforestation for crop and pasture land. Various studies (e.g. Joos et al., 2004; Kaplan et al., 2011; Mitchell et al., 2013) have attempted to assess the biogeochemical implications for Holocene climate in terms of increased carbon dioxide and methane emissions. However, less work has been done to examine the biogeophysical impacts of this early land use change. In this study, global climate model simulations with Hadley Centre Coupled Model version 3 (HadCM3) were used to examine the biogeophysical effects of Holocene land cover change on climate, both globally and regionally, from the early Holocene (8 ka BP) to the early industrial era (1850 CE).

Two experiments were performed with alternative descriptions of past vegetation: (i) one in which potential natural vegetation was simulated by Top-down Representation of Interactive Foliage and Flora Including Dynamics (TRIFFID) but without land use changes and (ii) one where the anthropogenic land use model Kaplan and Krumhardt 2010 (KK10; Kaplan et al., 2009, 2011) was used to set the HadCM3 crop regions. Snapshot simulations were run at 1000-year intervals to examine when the first signature of anthropogenic climate change can be detected both regionally, in the areas of land use change, and globally. Results from our model simulations indicate that in regions of early land disturbance such as Europe and south-east Asia detectable temperature changes, outside the normal range of variability, are encountered in the model as early as 7 ka BP in the June–July–August (JJA) season and throughout the entire annual cycle by 2–3 ka BP. Areas outside the regions of land disturbance are also affected, with virtually the whole globe experiencing significant temperature changes (predominantly cooling) by the early industrial period. The global annual mean temperature anomalies found in our single model simulations were −0.22 at 1850 CE, −0.11 at 2 ka BP, and −0.03 °C at 7 ka BP. Regionally, the largest temperature changes were in Europe with anomalies of −0.83 at 1850 CE, −0.58 at 2 ka BP, and −0.24 °C at 7 ka BP. Large-scale precipitation features such as the Indian monsoon, the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), and the North Atlantic storm track are also impacted by local land use and remote teleconnections. We investigated how advection by surface winds, mean sea level pressure (MSLP) anomalies, and tropospheric stationary wave train disturbances in the mid- to high latitudes led to remote teleconnections.

Short summary
We used climate modelling to estimate the biogeophysical impacts of agriculture on the climate over the last 8000 years of the Holocene. Our results show statistically significant surface temperature changes (mainly cooling) from as early as 7000 BP in the JJA season and throughout the entire annual cycle by 2–3000 BP. The changes were greatest in the areas of land use change but were also seen in other areas. Precipitation was also affected, particularly in Europe, India, and the ITCZ region.