TSS People

Gordon Bonan, Section Head, Senior Scientist


Ph.D., Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, 1988
M.S., Forest Resources, University of Georgia, 1984
B.A., Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, 1982

Research Interests

My research examines the interactions of terrestrial ecosystems with climate. This research integrates ecological, biogeochemical, hydrological, and atmospheric sciences to study terrestrial ecosystems, their responses to climate change, feedbacks that amplify or mitigate climate change, and human perturbations in land cover, land use, and ecosystem functions that alter climate. I specialize in the development of and experimentation with coupled models of Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere system.


AGU Fellow (2013) - "For highly influential work on the coupling of terrestrial ecosystems with the atmosphere and feedbacks with climate change"

Ecological Climatology, 2nd edition (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Ecological Climatology introduces an interdisciplinary framework to understand the interaction between terrestrial ecosystems and climate change. Written for advanced undergraduate and graduate students studying ecology, environmental science, atmospheric science and geography, the textbook reviews basic meteorological, hydrological and ecological concepts to examine the physical, chemical and biological processes by which terrestrial ecosystems affect and are affected by climate.

A new third edition is available in October 2015. The scope has been expanded beyond its initial focus on energy, water, and carbon to include reactive gases and aerosols in the atmosphere. This new edition emphasizes Earth as a system, recognizing interconnections among the planet's physical, chemical, biological, and socioeconomic components, and emphasizing global environmental sustainability. New chapters include: nitrogen, chemistry, and climate; aerosols, chemistry, and climate; climate intervention and geoengineering; and coevolution of climate and life.


Development of the next-generation comprehensive Earth system model with ecological systems and their management is a challenge that requires scientific contributions by researchers from geophysical and biological disciplines. The Terrestrial Sciences Section's BIOCLIMATE project establishes a framework to engage the university ecological, environmental sciences, and agricultural sciences communities in the Community Land Model (CLM) project. This approach, entitled BIOCLIMATE (Building Interdisciplinary Opportunities for CLImate Modeling And Terrestrial Ecosystems), creates educational and research opportunities for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers beyond core ecological, environmental sciences, and agricultural sciences disciplines to include large-scale geophysical Earth system models.

In the News

Many experts believe that deforestation is taking place on such a large scale that it has already significantly altered the world's climate. Read how in the October 11, 2015 NY Times Sunday Review.

Recent Research

We adopted (and modified) the stomatal optimization used by the soil-plant-atmosphere model (SPA), which combines both water-use efficiency and a representation of the dynamics of leaf water potential and tested the model in a framework suitable for the Community Land Model (CLM). Learn more this study here and obtain the model code (recent research).

Forests and Climate Change

In a review paper appearing in the 13 June 2008 special issue of Science magazine on "Forests in Flux," Gordon Bonan presents the current state of understanding for how forests impact global climate. "As politicians and the general public become more aware of climate change, there will be greater interest in legislative policies to mitigate global warming," said Bonan. "Forests have been proposed as a possible solution, so it is imperative that we understand fully how forests influence climate."

The Ecological Theory of Climate Models

Models of Earth's land surface for climate simulation now represent the physics, chemistry, and biology of terrestrial ecosystems (both managed and unmanaged), the responsiveness of ecosystems to and their influence on atmospheric processes, and the pervasive influence of human activity on the biosphere. In a series of articles published in the iLEAPS Newsletter, Gordon Bonan discusses how terrestrial ecosystems are included in climate models. Key terrestrial forcings and feedbacks include biogeochemical cycles, anthropogenic land-cover change, and their influence on climate change over the 20th and 21st centuries. An article in the June 2009 issue reviews the modeling of land use and land cover change. In the April 2010 issue of the iLEAPS Newsletter, Gordon Bonan outlines these ecological processes and their climate feedbacks in an article on The Ecological Theory of Climate Models. He was the guest editor for the November 2010 issue of the iLEAPS Newsletter on Terrestrial Feedbacks and Earth System Models. He was also the guest editor for the April 2013 issue of the iLEAPS Newsletter on Bridging the Gap Between the iLEAPS and GEWEX Land-Surface Modeling Communities. Long-term measurements are critical to understanding biosphere-atmosphere interactions, and an article in the September 2012 iLEAPS newsletter discusses this from the perspective of long-term observations and models.

Learn more about the Integrated Land Ecosystem-Atmosphere Processes Study (iLEAPS), a core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).

Linking Climate and Terrestrial Ecosystems

Kate Ravilious, contributing editor for environmentalresearchweb, writes about Gordon Bonan's research in a 7 June 2010 article Linking Climate and Terrestrial Ecosystems. "There is a good reason why summer clothes are often pastel shades - they reflect heat and help to keep you cool," Ravilious writes. "Exactly the same principle applies to the Earth, although our planet has more exotic clothes to choose from. Over the last couple of centuries mankind has drastically re-fashioned the Earth's surface and now this change in outfit is starting to affect the planet's climate."

William Henry Chapman, Mosby's Rangers

William Henry Chapman (April 17, 1840 - September 6, 1929) was second-in-command of John Singleton Mosby's famed "Mosby's Rangers" during the American Civil War. Learn more about Chapman's life story in The Edge of Mosby's Sword: The Life of Confederate Colonel William Henry Chapman. Published in 2009 by Southern Illinois University Press, Gordon Bonan's scholarly work is the definitive biography of Lt. Col. William H. Chapman.

CGD People

Gordon Bonan, Section Head, Senior Scientist