An alternative approach for quantifying climate regulation by ecosystems

West, P.C. et al., 2011. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

Methodological articleReview
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Ecosystems provide multiple benefits to people, including climate regulation. Previous efforts to quantify this ecosystem service have been either largely conceptual or based on complex atmospheric models. Here, we review previous research on this topic and propose a new and simple analytical approach for estimating the physical regulation of climate by ecosystems. The proposed metric estimates how land-cover change affects the loading of heat and moisture into the atmosphere, while also accounting for the relative contribution of wind-transported heat and moisture. Although feedback dynamics between land, atmosphere, and oceans are not modeled, the metric compares well with previous studies for several regions. We find that ecosystems have the strongest influence on surface climatic conditions in the boreal and tropical regions, where temperature and moisture changes could substantially offset or magnify greenhouse-forced changes. This approach can be extended to estimate the effects of changing land cover on local, physical climate processes that are relevant to society.

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