The Costs of Climate Change: Impact of Future Snow Cover Projections on Valuation of Albedo in Forest Management

Monday, 15 December 2014
Elizabeth A Burakowski, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, United States and David A Lutz, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, United States
Surface albedo provides an important climate regulating ecosystem service, particularly in the mid-latitudes where seasonal snow cover influences surface radiation budgets. In the case of substantial seasonal snow cover, the influence of albedo can equal or surpass the climatic benefits of carbon sequestration from forest growth. Climate mitigation platforms should therefore consider albedo in their framework in order to integrate these two climatic services in an economic context for the effective design and implementation of forest management projects. Over the next century, the influence of surface albedo is projected to diminish under higher emissions scenarios due to an overall decrease in snow depth and duration of snow cover in the mid-latitudes. In this study, we focus on the change in economic value of winter albedo in the northeastern United States projected through 2100 using the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) a1 and b1 scenarios. Statistically downscaled temperature and precipitation are used as input to the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model to provide future daily snow depth fields through 2100. Using VIC projections of future snow depth, projected winter albedo fields over deforested lands were generated using an empirical logarithmic relationship between snow depth and albedo derived from a volunteer network of snow observers in New Hampshire over the period Nov 2011 through 2014. Our results show that greater reductions in snow depth and the number of winter days with snow cover in the a1 compared to the b1 scenario reduce wintertime albedo when forested lands are harvested. This result has implications on future trade-offs among albedo, carbon storage, and timber value that should be investigated in greater detail. The impacts of forest harvest on radiative forcing associated with energy redistribution (e.g., latent heat and surface roughness length) should also be considered in future work.