Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
Research article
12 Aug 2011
Research article |  | 12 Aug 2011

Holocene vegetation and biomass changes on the Tibetan Plateau – a model-pollen data comparison

A. Dallmeyer, M. Claussen, U. Herzschuh, and N. Fischer

Abstract. Results of a transient numerical experiment performed in a coupled atmosphere-ocean-vegetation model with orbital forcing alone are compared to pollen-based vegetation reconstructions covering the last 6000 yr from four representative sites on the Tibetan Plateau. Causes of the vegetation change and consequences of the biomass storage are analysed.

In general, simulated and reconstructed vegetation trends at each site are in good agreement. Both methods reveal a general retreat of the biomass-rich vegetation that is particularly manifested in a strong decrease of forests. However, model and reconstructions often differ with regard to the climatic factors causing the vegetation change at each site. The reconstructions primarily identify decreasing summer monsoon precipitation and changes in the temperature of the warm season as the responsible mechanisms for the vegetation shift. In the model, the land cover change mainly originates from differences in warm/cold seasonal temperatures and only to a lesser extent from precipitation changes.

According to the model results, the averaged forest fraction on the Plateau shrinks by almost one-third from mid-Holocene (41.4 %) to present-day (28.3 %). Shrubs, whose fraction is quadrupled at present-day (12.3 %), replace most of this forest. Grass fraction increases from 38.1 % during the mid-Holocene to 42.3 % at present-day. This land cover change results in a decrease of living biomass by 0.62 kgC m−2. Total biomass on the Tibetan Plateau decreases by 1.9 kgC m−2, i.e. approx. 6.64 PgC are released due to the natural land cover change.