Land-Use in Climate Models: Lessons, Limitations, and Challenges for the Future


The evidence is now overwhelming that human activity has significantly altered basic element cycles (e.g. of carbon and nitrogen), the water cycle, and land surface properties (e.g. vegetation cover, albedo) at regional, continental, and planetary scales, and that these alterations are influencing the regional and global environment, including the Earth’s climate system. Quantification of the effects of past and future land-use changes is key for explaining historical changes in climate, partitioning human and natural influences on climate, and improving future projections. Previous global studies have focused primarily on the effects of net greenhouse gas emissions on the climate system. New advanced Earth System Models (ESMs) are now able to explore the combined biogeochemical and biogeophysical effects of gridded land-use changes on the Earth’s climate system, and next generation studies are beginning to couple human activity into ESMs for a more consistent and complete treatment of human impacts on the climate system. Here we present a brief overview of the progression of the treatment of the effects of land-use on the Earth system, beginning with early climate models, through to current state of the art ESMs used in CMiP5/AR5, and looking to new fully-coupled models in development. Focus will be on highlighting current limitations, and identifying key challenges for the future.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type

Conference Proceeding