Impacts of land-use/land-cover change on afternoon precipitation over North America

Liang Chen, Paul A. Dirmeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates the impacts of historical land-cover change on summer afternoon precipitation over North America using the Community Earth System Model. Using land-atmosphere coupling metrics, this study examines the sensitivity of afternoon atmospheric conditions to morning land surface states and fluxes that are altered by land-cover changes before and since 1850. The deforestation in the eastern United States prior to 1850 leads to increased latent but decreased sensible heat flux during the morning and a reduction in afternoon precipitation over the southern regions of the U.S. East Coast. The agricultural expansion over the Great Plains since preindustrial times shows similar effects on surface fluxes but results in a significant widespread increase in precipitation over the crop area. The coupling metrics exhibit a strong positive soil moisture-precipitation relationship over the Great Plains. Impacts of land-cover change on precipitation manifest through changes in rainfall frequency, rather than intensity, that are largely controlled by the distribution of CAPE as the trigger of convective precipitation. However, deforestation and later reforestation over the eastern United States, where coupling properties are different than the Great Plains, do not have as dominant an effect on afternoon precipitation. Additionally, precipitation over parts of the U.S. Southwest decreases in this model during the earlier period of East Coast deforestation, owing to changes in the large-scale circulation over North America driven by land-use changes prior to 1850.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2121-2140
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmosphere-land interaction
  • CAPE
  • Climate models
  • Land use
  • North America
  • Rainfall

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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