This project uses model simulations to study the effect of land use and land cover change on the climate of the eastern US since the mid-1600s. The project is based on a new dataset, the "Reconstructed Historical Land Cover and Biophysical Parameter" dataset, which uses 36 land-cover categories to describe landcover over the eastern US (east of the 97W meridian, which runs through Kansas) for four representative years: 1650, 1850, 1920, and 1992. The period from 1650 to 1920 saw extensive deforestation and conversion to cropland, which was followed by partial reforestation from 1920 to 1992, all of which is captured in the historical land cover dataset. The change from forest to grassland or cropland can affect climate in several ways. For example, the higher albedo of crops and grasses, which are lighter in color than forests and thus reflects back more incident sunlight, could cause a reduction in surface temperature. The historical land cover dataset also documents a reduction in wetlands, which could be consequential for rainfall. Simulations using a land-atmosphere regional climate model are used to assess the impact of the different land surface conditions on climatic conditions (primarily temperature and rainfall) in the eastern US climate.

Research on the climatic effects of land use and land cover change is of societal as well as scientific interest, as it can help us to identify human-induced climate changes which are likely to require strategies for adaptation and mitigation. In addition to the societal value of its research findings, the project will have educational broader impacts through the outreach activities of the principal investigators at local middle and high scools. The project will also support a graduate student, thereby providing education and traning for the next generation of the scientific workforce in this research area.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS)
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Eric DeWeaver
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Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Fort Collins
United States
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