TSS People

Gordon Bonan, 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


National Center for Atmospheric Research
Climate and Global Dynamics
Scientist I (1991-1994); Scientist II (1994-1997); Scientist III (1997-2002); Head, Terrestrial Sciences Section (2002-2019); Senior Scientist (2002-)

Advanced Study Program
Postdoctoral Fellow (1989-1991)

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
National Research Council Research Associate (1988-1989)

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria
Young Scientists Summer Program (1987); Associate Research Scholar (1988)

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.


Fellow, American Geophysical Union (2013)
Fellow, American Meteorological Society (2018)
Fellow, Ecological Society of America (2019)
American Geophysical Union, Tyndall History of Global Environmental Change Lecture (2020) Clarivate Web of Science highly cited researcher (2014-2020)

Publications and Citations

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Clarivate Analytics Web of Science (August 2021)

  • Publications: 159
  • Total citations: 38,198
  • Citing articles: 27,977
  • h-index: 79

Google Scholar citations

Ecological Climatology, 3rd edition (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

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. The 3rd edition has expanded the scope 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.

Climate Change and Terrestrial Ecosystem Modeling (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Climate Change and Terrestrial Ecosystem Modeling describes the modeling of terrestrial ecosystems in Earth system models. This companion book to Ecological Climatology builds on the concepts introduced there, and provides the mathematical foundation upon which to develop and understand ecosystem models and their relevance for Earth system models. Ecological Climatology describes why the biosphere matters for understanding climate and climate change. Climate Change and Terrestrial Ecosystem Modeling decscibes how to model the biosphere. Using theory and practice, the comprehensive text covers the fundamentals of environmental biophysics, biometeorology, biogeochemical cycles, and vegetation dynamics, and integrates those principles into a complete model. The book bridges the disciplinary gap among land surface models developed by atmospheric scientists; biogeochemical models, dynamic global vegetation models, and ecosystem demography models developed by ecologists; and ecohydrology models developed by hydrologists. It shows the commonality across disciplines and provides a foundation for exchange of knowledge among ecologists, hydrologists, and atmospheric scientists.


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.

Forests and Climate Change

In a review paper appearing in the 13 June 2008 special issue of Science 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."

In 2016, Gordon Bonan revisted the forest-climate question in a review article that also examined the historical context of the science:

Bonan, G.B. 2016. Forests, climate, and public policy: A 500-year interdisciplinary odyssey. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 47:97-121.

The manuscript reviews how forests regulate climate at local, regional, and global scales through exchanges of momentum, energy, moisture, and chemicals with the atmosphere. The notion that forests affect climate is not new. A vigorous debate about deforestation, land use, and climate change occurred during the colonial settlement of North America and continued through the 1800s, but the arguments of conservationists and foresters for forest.climate influences were dismissed by meteorologists. Modern climate science shows that forests warm climate annually by decreasing surface albedo, cool climate through surface roughness and evapotranspiration and by storing carbon, and have additional effects through atmospheric chemistry. Land use is a key aspect of climate policy, but we lack comprehensive policy recommendations. Like our predecessors, we are seeking a deeper understanding of Earth.s climate, its ecosystems, and our uses of those ecosystems, and just as importantly we are still searching for the right interdisciplinary framework in which to find those answers. Read more...

Multilayer Plant Canopy Models

The fundamental coupling between vegetation and the atmosphere in numerical weather prediction and climate models occurs with the fluxes of momentum, energy, and mass over the diurnal cycle as mediated by plant physiology, the microclimate of plant canopies, and boundary layer processes. The central paradigm of land surface models for the past 30 years or more has been to represent plant canopies as a homogeneous “big leaf” without vertical structure, in contrast with multilayer models that vertically resolve physiological and microclimatic gradients within the canopy. With new datasets of leaf traits and canopy structure, new ecosystem demography models with size- and height-structured vegetation, and greater computational power, there is renewed interest in multilayer canopy models. Gordon Bonan has been developing a multilayer canopy parameterization for use with the Community Land Model (CLM). Read more...

Books by Gordon Bonan

Gordon Bonan has published several books on boreal forest ecosystems, climate and ecosystems, terrestrial biosphere models, and American history. Learn more about Gordon's books.

CGD People

Gordon Bonan, Senior Scientist