Exploring the Role of Land in the Global Climate System

Climate Science, Plant Biology

Earth’s climate encompasses complex interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice. Climate is critically important for life on land, with temperature, rainfall, and light controlling the distribution of vegetation across the land surface. However, vegetation also modifies the global climate system, by controlling the fluxes of water, energy, and carbon between the land and the atmosphere. Vegetation modifies temperatures by cooling the surface through transpiration (water that passes through leaves during photosynthesis)/while the color and number of leaves of a plant directly impact how much sunlight is absorbed by the land surface, which impacts surface temperatures. Moreover, ~30% of anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are taken up and stored by plants on land, acting as a buffer against global warming. Using numerical models of the Earth system, we can answer questions like “how does changing what plants grow where alter climate?” In this stream, students will learn about the physics governing the complex interactions of different components of the Earth system. The climate is a fundamentally interdisciplinary complex system; to study it, we use understanding, tools, and methods from physics, applied mathematics, computer science, Earth science, biology, hydrology, oceanography, and atmospheric sciences.

Topic Outline

• Physics of the climate system

• Physics of plant-atmosphere interactions

• What is an Earth System Model?

Project outcome: Run an Earth system model experiment where you change where plants grow to see how this impacts the rest of the climate system

Skills Developed Include:

• Programming literacy

• Scientific computing and data analysis (Python)

• Navigation and use of high performance computing systems

• Data science / visualization

Stream Leaders

Marysa Lague, PhD
Assistant Professor, Atmospheric Sciences