Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
16 Mar 2012
Research article |  | 16 Mar 2012

Vegetation-climate interactions in the warm mid-Cretaceous

J. Zhou, C. J. Poulsen, N. Rosenbloom, C. Shields, and B. Briegleb

Abstract. Vegetation-climate interactions are thought to have amplified polar warmth during past warm periods. Here, we explore the vegetation-climate interactions in the mid-Cretaceous using a fully coupled ocean-atmosphere general circulation model with a dynamic vegetation component. We run simulations with 1x, 10x and 16x pre-industrial atmospheric CO2. Results show that forests expand from mid-latitudes to high latitudes as CO2 increases from 1x to 10x and 16x, mainly due to the CO2-induced warming. This expansion of mid-to-high latitude forests are largely supported by the distribution of mid-Cretaceous fossil woods and coal deposits. Globally, the presence of vegetation increases mean annual temperature and precipitation by 0.9 °C and 0.11 mm day−1 relative to bare ground. High-latitude warming induced by the presence of vegetation (∼1.9 °C) is less than half of that reported in previous studies. The weaker warming here is mainly due to less pronounced albedo feedbacks, and to a less extent, reduced poleward heat transport via weakening of the meridional overturning circulation. Our results suggest that other mechanisms in addition to high atmospheric CO2 and high-latitude vegetation are required to maintain the polar warmth.