Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
Clim. Past, 7, 1027–1039, 2011
Clim. Past, 7, 1027–1039, 2011

Research article 28 Sep 2011

Research article | 28 Sep 2011

Strength of forest-albedo feedback in mid-Holocene climate simulations

J. Otto*,1,2, T. Raddatz1, and M. Claussen3,1 J. Otto et al.
  • 1Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
  • 2International Max Planck Research School on Earth System Modelling, Hamburg, Germany
  • 3Meteorological Institute, University Hamburg, KlimaCampus, Hamburg, Germany
  • *now at: LSCE, Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et l'Environnement, UMR8212 – CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Gif-Sur-Yvette, France

Abstract. Reconstructions of the mid-Holocene climate, 6000 years before present, suggest that spring temperatures were higher at high northern latitudes compared to the pre-industrial period. A positive feedback between expansion of forest and climate presumably contributed to this warming. In the presence of snow, forests have a lower albedo than grass land. Therefore, the expansion of forest likely favoured a warming in spring, counteracting the lower insolation at the mid-Holocene.

We investigate the sensitivity of the vegetation-atmosphere interaction under mid-Holocene orbital forcing with respect to the strength of the forest-albedo feedback by using a comprehensive coupled atmosphere-vegetation model (ECHAM5/JSBACH). We perform two sets of model simulations: a first set of simulations with a relatively weak reduction of albedo of snow by forest; and a second set of simulations with a relatively strong reduction of the albedo of snow by forest.

We show that the parameterisation of the albedo of snow leads to uncertainties in the temperature signal. Compared to the set with weak snow masking, the simulations with strong snow masking reveal a spring warming that is three times higher, by 0.34 °C north of 60° N. This warming is related to a forest expansion of only 13%.