Increasing surface albedo in the dry subtropical forests of South America: the role of agriculture expansion and management

Monday, 15 December 2014
Javier Houspanossian1, Sylvain Kuppel2, Raul Gimenez1, Esteban G Jobbagy2 and Marcelo D Nosetto2, (1)CONICET, Buenos Aires, Argentina, (2)National University of San Luis, San Luis, Argentina
The increase in surface albedo inherent to land clearing and cultivation (land-cover change, LCC) in the subtropical dry forests of the South American Chaco offsets part of the radiative forcing (RF) of the related carbon emissions. The magnitude of these albedo changes, however, is also dependent on shifts in agricultural practices (land-management change, LMC) and will influence the net effect on Earth's radiation balance as well as other potential feedbacks on climate. We quantified the surface albedo changes between 2001 and 2013 and the consequent shifts in the radiation balance resulting from LCC and LMC, using MODIS imagery a columnar radiation model parameterized with satellite data. Agricultural systems replacing dry forests presented a large variety of managements, ranging from pasture systems with remnant trees to different grain crops, displaying a wide range of phenologies. Cultivated lands showed higher and more variable albedo values (mean = 0.162, Standard Deviation = 0.013, n = 10,000 pixels) than the dry forests they replace (mean = 0.113, SD = 0.010, n = 10,000). These albedo contrasts resulted in a cooling RF of deforestation of -10.1 W m-2 on average, but both livestock and grain crop production systems showed large differences among the different land management options. For instance, livestock systems based on open pasture lands showed higher albedo change and RF (0.06 and -16.3 W m-2, respectively) than silvopastoral systems (0.02 and -4.4 W m-2). Similarly in cropping systems, the replacement of double-cropping by single summer crops, a widespread process in the region lately, resulted in higher albedo change (0.06 vs. 0.08) and RF (-16.3 vs. -22.3 W m-2). Although the effects of LCC on climate are widely acknowledged, those of LMC are still scarcely understood. In the Chaco region, the latter could play an important role and offer a yet-overlooked pathway to influence the radiative balance of our planet.