Evidence from both meteorological stations and vegetational successional studies suggests that summer temperatures are decreasing in the mountain-plain system in northeast Colorado, particularly since the early 1980s. These trends are coincident with large changes in regional land cover. Trends in global, Northern Hemisphere and continental surface temperatures over the same period are insignificant. These observations suggest that changes in the climate of this mountain-plain system may be, in some part, a result of localized forcing mechanisms. In this study the effects of land use change on the northern Colorado plains, where large regions of grasslands have been transformed into both dry and irrigated agricultural lands, on regional weather is examined in an effort to understand this local deviation from larger-scale trends. We find with high-resolution numerical simulations of a 3-day summer period using a regional atmospheric-land surface model that replacing grasslands with irrigated and dry farmland can have impacts on regional weather and therefore climate which are not limited to regions of direct forcing. Higher elevations remote from regions of land use change are affected as well. Specifically, cases with altered landcover had cooler, moister boundary layers, and diminished low-level upslope winds over portions of the plains. At higher elevations, temperatures also were lower as was low-level convergence. Precipitation and cloud cover were substantially affected in mountain regions. We advance the hypothesis that observed land use changes may have already had a role in explaining part of the observed climate record in the northern Colorado mountain-plain system. Copyright 1999 by the American Geophysical Union.
Additional publication details
Potential impacts on Colorado Rocky Mountain weather due to land use changes on the adjacent Great Plains