Articles | Volume 16, issue 4
Research article
29 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 29 Feb 2016

Land cover change impacts on atmospheric chemistry: simulating projected large-scale tree mortality in the United States

Jeffrey A. Geddes, Colette L. Heald, Sam J. Silva, and Randall V. Martin

Abstract. Land use and land cover changes impact climate and air quality by altering the exchange of trace gases between the Earth's surface and atmosphere. Large-scale tree mortality that is projected to occur across the United States as a result of insect and disease may therefore have unexplored consequences for tropospheric chemistry. We develop a land use module for the GEOS-Chem global chemical transport model to facilitate simulations involving changes to the land surface, and to improve consistency across land–atmosphere exchange processes. The model is used to test the impact of projected national-scale tree mortality risk through 2027 estimated by the 2012 USDA Forest Service National Insect and Disease Risk Assessment. Changes in biogenic emissions alone decrease monthly mean O3 by up to 0.4 ppb, but reductions in deposition velocity compensate or exceed the effects of emissions yielding a net increase in O3 of more than 1 ppb in some areas. The O3 response to the projected change in emissions is affected by the ratio of baseline NOx : VOC concentrations, suggesting that in addition to the degree of land cover change, tree mortality impacts depend on whether a region is NOx-limited or NOx-saturated. Consequently, air quality (as diagnosed by the number of days that 8 h average O3 exceeds 70 ppb) improves in polluted environments where changes in emissions are more important than changes to dry deposition, but worsens in clean environments where changes to dry deposition are the more important term. The influence of changes in dry deposition demonstrated here underscores the need to evaluate treatments of this physical process in models. Biogenic secondary organic aerosol loadings are significantly affected across the US, decreasing by 5–10 % across many regions, and by more than 25 % locally. Tree mortality could therefore impact background aerosol loadings by between 0.5 and 2 µg m−3. Changes to reactive nitrogen oxide abundance and partitioning are also locally important. The regional effects simulated here are similar in magnitude to other scenarios that consider future biofuel cropping or natural succession, further demonstrating that biosphere–atmosphere exchange should be considered when predicting future air quality and climate. We point to important uncertainties and further development that should be addressed for a more robust understanding of land cover change feedbacks.

Short summary
Land use and land cover changes driven by anthropogenic activities or natural causes (e.g., forestry management, agriculture, wildfires) can impact climate and air quality in many complex ways. Using a state-of-the-art chemistry model, we investigate how tree mortality in the US due to insect infestation and disease outbreak may impact atmospheric composition. We find that the surface concentrations of ozone and aerosol can be altered due to changing background emissions and loss processes.
Final-revised paper