Characterizing an Integrated Annual Global Measure of the Earth’s Maximum Land Surface Temperatures from 2003 to 2012 Reveals Strong Biogeographic Influences

Friday, 19 December 2014: 3:25 PM
David J Mildrexler, Oregon State University, Forest Ecosystems and Society, Corvallis, OR, United States, Maosheng Zhao, University of Maryland, GREENBELT, MD, United States and Steven W Running, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, United States
Land Surface Temperature (LST) is a good indicator of the surface energy balance because it is determined by interactions and energy fluxes between the atmosphere and the ground. The variability of land surface properties and vegetation densities across the Earth’s surface changes these interactions and gives LST a unique biogeographic influence. Natural and human-induced disturbances modify the surface characteristics and alter the expression of LST. This results in a heterogeneous and dynamic thermal environment. Measurements that merge these factors into a single global metric, while maintaining the important biophysical and biogeographical factors of the land surface’s thermal environment are needed to better understand integrated temperature changes in the Earth system.

Using satellite-based LST we have developed a new global metric that focuses on one critical component of LST that occurs when the relationship between vegetation density and surface temperature is strongly coupled: annual maximum LST (LSTmax). A 10 year evaluation of LSTmax histograms that include every 1-km pixel across the Earth’s surface reveals that this integrative measurement is strongly influenced by the biogeographic patterns of the Earth’s ecosystems, providing a unique comparative view of the planet every year that can be likened to the Earth’s thermal maximum fingerprint. The biogeographical component is controlled by the frequency and distribution of vegetation types across the Earth’s land surface and displays a trimodal distribution. The three modes are driven by ice covered polar regions, forests, and hot desert/shrubland environments. In ice covered areas the histograms show that the heat of fusion results in a convergence of surface temperatures around the melting point. The histograms also show low interannual variability reflecting two important global land surface dynamics; 1) only a small fraction of the Earth’s surface is disturbed in any given year, and 2) when considered at the global scale, the positive and negative climate forcings resulting from the aggregate effects of the loss of vegetation to disturbances and the regrowth from natural succession are roughly in balance. Changes in any component of the histogram can be tracked and would indicate a major change in the Earth system.