Roughness length and zero-plane displacement over boreal, cool- and warm-temperate forests were observed and parameterised using forest structure data. Previous models for roughness length and zero-plane displacement using leaf area index and frontal area index did not describe intersite differences, and the model for zero-plane displacement did not express seasonal variations with the change of leaf area that was smaller in dense forest than in sparse forest. The observed results show that intersite differences of normalised zero-plane displacement were related to stand density, and seasonal variations were related to leaf area index at each forest, with the degree depending on stand density. From these observations, a new concept is proposed for normalised zero-plane displacement: the basal part is primarily determined by the density of stems and branches (stand density), while the seasonal variation depends on the density of leaves (leaf area index), which is limited to the residual of the basal part. Based on this concept, a new model was developed and verified to express both intersite differences and seasonal variations in observed roughness length and zero-plane displacement. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.