Reconciling the disagreement between observed and simulated temperature responses to deforestation

Liang Chen, Paul A. Dirmeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Land use changes have great potential to influence temperature extremes. However, contradictory summer daytime temperature responses to deforestation are reported between observations and climate models. Here we present a pertinent comparison between multiple satellite-based datasets and climate model deforestation experiments. Observationally-based methods rely on a space-for-time assumption, which compares neighboring locations with contrasting land covers as a proxy for land use changes over time without considering possible atmospheric feedbacks. Offline land simulations or subgrid-level analyses agree with observed warming effects only when the space-for-time assumption is replicated. However, deforestation-related cloud and radiation effects manifest in coupled climate simulations and observations at larger scales, which show that a reduction of hot extremes with deforestation – as simulated in a number of CMIP5 models – is possible. Our study provides a design and analysis methodology for land use change studies and highlights the importance of including land-atmosphere coupling, which can alter deforestation-induced temperature changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number202
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • ISWS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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