Articles | Volume 4, issue 4
Geosci. Model Dev., 4, 993–1010, 2011
Geosci. Model Dev., 4, 993–1010, 2011

Development and technical paper 16 Nov 2011

Development and technical paper | 16 Nov 2011

Plant functional type mapping for earth system models

B. Poulter1,2, P. Ciais2, E. Hodson1, H. Lischke1, F. Maignan2, S. Plummer3, and N. E. Zimmermann1 B. Poulter et al.
  • 1Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Dynamic Macroecology, Zürcherstrasse 111, Birmensdorf 8903, Switzerland
  • 2Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de L'Environment, UMR8212, CNRS – CEA, UVSQ, Gif-sur Yvette, France
  • 3IGBP-ESA Joint Projects Office, c/o ESA-ESRIN, European Space Agency, Via Galileo Galilei, 00044, Frascati, Italy

Abstract. The sensitivity of global carbon and water cycling to climate variability is coupled directly to land cover and the distribution of vegetation. To investigate biogeochemistry-climate interactions, earth system models require a representation of vegetation distributions that are either prescribed from remote sensing data or simulated via biogeography models. However, the abstraction of earth system state variables in models means that data products derived from remote sensing need to be post-processed for model-data assimilation. Dynamic global vegetation models (DGVM) rely on the concept of plant functional types (PFT) to group shared traits of thousands of plant species into usually only 10–20 classes. Available databases of observed PFT distributions must be relevant to existing satellite sensors and their derived products, and to the present day distribution of managed lands. Here, we develop four PFT datasets based on land-cover information from three satellite sensors (EOS-MODIS 1 km and 0.5 km, SPOT4-VEGETATION 1 km, and ENVISAT-MERIS 0.3 km spatial resolution) that are merged with spatially-consistent Köppen-Geiger climate zones. Using a beta (ß) diversity metric to assess reclassification similarity, we find that the greatest uncertainty in PFT classifications occur most frequently between cropland and grassland categories, and in dryland systems between shrubland, grassland and forest categories because of differences in the minimum threshold required for forest cover. The biogeography-biogeochemistry DGVM, LPJmL, is used in diagnostic mode with the four PFT datasets prescribed to quantify the effect of land-cover uncertainty on climatic sensitivity of gross primary productivity (GPP) and transpiration fluxes. Our results show that land-cover uncertainty has large effects in arid regions, contributing up to 30% (20%) uncertainty in the sensitivity of GPP (transpiration) to precipitation. The availability of PFT datasets that are consistent with current satellite products and adapted for earth system models is an important component for reducing the uncertainty of terrestrial biogeochemistry to climate variability.