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On the stability of the high-latitude climate-vegetation system in a coupled atmosphere-biosphere model



Samuel Levis, National Center for Atmospheric Research, PO Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307–3000, USA. E-mail:


In order to investigate the hypothesis that the Earth's climate and vegetation patterns may have more than one basic state, we use the fully coupled GENESIS-IBIS model. GENESIS is an atmospheric general circulation model. IBIS is a dynamic global vegetation model that integrates biophysical, physiological, and ecological processes. GENESIS and IBIS are coupled by way of a common land surface interface to allow for the full and transient interaction between changes in the vegetation structure and changes in the general circulation of the atmosphere. We examine two modern climate simulations of the coupled model initialized with two different initial conditions. In one case, we initialize the model vegetation cover with the modern observed distribution of vegetation. In the other case, we initialize the vegetation cover with evergreen boreal forests extending to the Arctic coast, replacing high-latitude tundra. We interpret the coupled model's behaviour using a conceptual model for multistability and demonstrate that in both simulations the climate-vegetation system converges to the same equilibrium state. In the present climate, feedbacks between land, ocean, sea ice, and the atmosphere do not result in the warming required to support an expanded boreal forest.