The representation of arctic soils in the land surface model: The importance of mosses

J. Beringer, A. H. Lynch, F. S.III Chapin, M. Mack, G. B. Bonan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

200 Scopus citations


Mosses dominate the surface cover in high northern latitudes and have the potential to play a key role in modifying the thermal and hydrologic regime of Arctic soils. These modifications in turn feed back to influence surface energy exchanges and hence may affect regional climate. However, mosses are poorly represented in models of the land surface. In this study the NCAR Land Surface Model (LSM) was modified in two ways. First, additional soil texture types including mosses and lichens were added to more realistically represent northern soils. Second, the LSM was also modified so that a different soil texture type could be specified for each layer. Several experiments were performed using climate data from an Arctic tundra site in 1995. The model was run for a homogeneous loam soil column and then also for columns that included moss, lichen, peat, and sand. The addition of a surface layer of moss underlain by peat and loam had a substantial impact on modeled surface processes. First, moss acted as an insulative layer producing cooler summer temperatures (6.9°C lower at 0.5 m) and warmer winter temperatures (2.3°C higher at 0.5 m) when compared with a homogenous loam soil column. Second, a soil column with a moss surface had a greater surface infiltration, leading to greater storage of soil moisture in lower layers when compared with a homogeneous loam column. Last, moss modulated the surface energy exchanges by decreasing soil heat flux (57% in July) and increasing turbulent fluxes of heat (67% in July) and moisture (15% in July). Mosses were also more effective contributors to total latent heating than was a bare loam surface. These results suggest that the addition of moss and the ability to prescribe different soil textures for different soil layers result in a more plausible distribution of heat and water within the column and that these modifications should be incorporated into regional and global climate models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3324-3335
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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