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Desertification of the East Asian drylands and the consequent dust transport have been serious concerns for adjacent Asian countries as well as the western United States. Tree planting has been considered one applicable strategy to mitigate the desertification. However, the desired effect of the tree planting would not be brought to fruition unless the newly planted trees change the coupling characteristics between the land and the atmosphere. Based on this perception, we attempt to clarify the effects of vegetation on the coupling strength between the atmosphere and land surface, and we suggest the most efficient areas of tree planting for desertification mitigation in East Asia. Using regional vegetation-atmosphere coupled model simulations, coupling strength with and without vegetation was computed and compared with each other. An increased vegetation fraction reduces the coupling strength in June, July, and August (JJA), primarily due to decreased evapotranspiration variability. This effect is pronounced over the Manchurian Plains and the highly populated areas of Beijing and Tianjin. The reduced coupling strength tends to weaken feedback between soil moisture and precipitation as a maintenance mechanism of warm season droughts in the midlatitudes and subsequently decrease the probability of droughts, a finding that is reflected in the enhanced JJA mean soil moisture. However, some drylands like the eastern edges of the Gobi desert present marginal or even opposite changes in coupling strength, meaning a limited effect of vegetation on relieving droughts. Therefore, given limited financial and human resources, acupuncture-like afforestation, i.e., concentrated tree planting in a particular region where the coupling strength can be substantially reduced by vegetation, is an effective strategy to secure long-standing desertification mitigation.


This article was originally published in Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 117, in 2012. DOI: 10.1029/2011JD017143

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Peer Reviewed



American Geophysical Union



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