Study shows how land-use changes affect U.S. temperature, and might be used to address climate change

  • January 1, 2010
  • Science Highlights

Researchers affiliated with ITaP’s Purdue Terrestrial Observatory program say regional surface temperatures can be affected by land use, suggesting that local and regional strategies, such as creating green spaces and buffer zones in and around urban areas, could be a tool in addressing climate change.

A study by researchers from Purdue and the universities of Colorado and Maryland concludes that greener land cover contributes to cooler temperatures and almost any other change leads to warmer temperatures. The study, which covers the entire the continental U.S., is further evidence that land use should be better incorporated into computer models projecting future climate conditions, says Purdue‘s Souleymane Fall, the paper’s lead author.

Among the study's findings:

  • In general, the greener the land cover, the cooler the surface temperature.
  • Conversion to agriculture results in cooling, while conversion from agriculture generally results in warming.
  • Deforestation generally results in warming, with the exception of a shift from forest to agriculture. No clear picture emerged from the impact of planting or seeding new forests.
  • Urbanization and conversion to bare soils have the largest warming impacts.
  • On balance, land use conversion often results in more warming than cooling, according to the study.

The study shows that a significant trend-- warming in terms of temperatures--can be partially explained by land-use change, says Dev Niyogi, a Purdue earth, atmospheric, and planetary science and agronomy professor and the Indiana state climatologist. He is the study's corresponding author. Niyogi and Fall say the impact of land use in driving climate change has been poorly understood compared to factors such as greenhouse gas emissions.

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Originally posted: July 1, 2014 3:01pm EDT