Modelled biophysical impacts of conservation agriculture on local climates

Annette L. Hirsch*, Reinhard Prestele, Edouard L. Davin, Sonia I. Seneviratne, Wim Thiery, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Including the parameterization of land management practices into Earth System Models has been shown to influence the simulation of regional climates, particularly for temperature extremes. However, recent model development has focused on implementing irrigation where other land management practices such as conservation agriculture (CA) has been limited due to the lack of global spatially explicit datasets describing where this form of management is practiced. Here, we implement a representation of CA into the Community Earth System Model and show that the quality of simulated surface energy fluxes improves when including more information on how agricultural land is managed. We also compare the climate response at the subgrid scale where CA is applied. We find that CA generally contributes to local cooling (~1°C) of hot temperature extremes in mid-latitude regions where it is practiced, while over tropical locations CA contributes to local warming (~1°C) due to changes in evapotranspiration dominating the effects of enhanced surface albedo. In particular, changes in the partitioning of evapotranspiration between soil evaporation and transpiration are critical for the sign of the temperature change: a cooling occurs only when the soil moisture retention and associated enhanced transpiration is sufficient to offset the warming from reduced soil evaporation. Finally, we examine the climate change mitigation potential of CA by comparing a simulation with present-day CA extent to a simulation where CA is expanded to all suitable crop areas. Here, our results indicate that while the local temperature response to CA is considerable cooling (>2°C), the grid-scale changes in climate are counteractive due to negative atmospheric feedbacks. Overall, our results underline that CA has a nonnegligible impact on the local climate and that it should therefore be considered in future climate projections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4758-4774
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number10
Early online date27 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • CESM
  • climate-effective land management
  • CLM
  • land-based mitigation
  • subgrid-scale influences
  • temperature extremes
  • tillage


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