Effect of nitrogen limitation and soil biophysics on Holocene greening of the Sahara

Jooyeop Lee, Martin Claussen, Jeongwon Kim, Je Woo Hong, In Sun Song, Jinkyu Hong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The so-called Green Sahara (GS), which was a wet and vegetative Sahara region in the early to mid-Holocene, provides useful information on our climate simulation because it is a consequence of complex interaction between biophysical and climatic processes. It is still a challenge to simulate the GS in terms of vegetative extent and precipitation using current climate models. This study attempts to simulate the Green Sahara 8000 years ago by using the state-of-the-art Earth system model CESM that incorporates the nitrogen cycle and the soil-precipitation feedbacks. Our study puts more emphasis on the impact of soil biophysical properties (e.g., bare-soil albedo, porosity, heat capacity, and hydraulic conductivity) and soil nitrogen influenced by soil organic matter on the simulation of the GS. In this coupled simulation, vegetation interacts with changes in soil properties and soil organic matter by phenology, decomposition, and allocation of carbon and nitrogen. With changes in the Earth's orbit and dust in the early to mid-Holocene, the model simulates increased precipitation in North Africa but does not capture the extent of the GS. Our analysis shows that the Holocene greening is simulated better if the amount of soil nitrogen and soil texture is properly modified for the humid and vegetative GS period. Soil biochemical and physical properties increase precipitation and vegetation cover in North Africa through their influence on photosynthesis and surface albedo as well as their consequent enhanced albedo-precipitation and evapotranspiration-precipitation feedbacks. Our findings suggest that future climate simulation needs to consider consequent changes in soil nitrogen and texture with changes in vegetation cover and density for proper climate simulations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-326
Number of pages14
JournalClimate of the Past
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Feb 17

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (grant no. NRF-2018R1A5A1024958).

Publisher Copyright:
© Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. All rights reserved.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Stratigraphy
  • Palaeontology


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