It is generally accepted that land use and land management practices impact climate change through sequestration of carbon in soils, but modulation of surface energy budget can also be important. Using Landsat data to characterize cropland albedos in Canada's three prairie soil zones, this study estimates the atmospheric carbon equivalent drawdown of albedo radiative forcing for three management practices: 1) moving from conventional tillage to no-till, 2) eliminating summer fallow in crop rotations, and 3) growing crops with higher albedos. In a 50-year time horizon, conversion from conventional tillage to no-till results in a total equivalent atmospheric CO2 (CO2-eq) drawdown of 1.0-1.5 kg m-2, and conversion from summer fallow to crops results in CO2-eq drawdown of 1.1-2.4 kg m-2. Conversion of summer fallow to crops results in different magnitudes of CO2-eq drawdown depending on specific crops. Lentils, peas, and canola have relatively higher albedo than that of spring wheat and flax; hence, a larger magnitude of CO2-eq drawdown results when they replace summer fallow in the rotation. For the management changes from 1990 to 2019 for the whole Canadian Prairies, albedo changes induced a CO2-eq drawdown of about 179.3 ± 20.9 Tg due to increased area of no-till, and 101.6 ± 9.5 Tg due to reduced area under fallow. The study shows that the magnitudes of CO2-eq drawdown due to albedo change are comparable to that due to soil carbon sequestration. Therefore, it is important to account for cropland albedo changes in assessing the potential of agricultural management practices to mitigate climate change.
Keywords: Albedo; Carbon sequestration; Radiative forcing; Remote sensing; Summer fallow; Tillage.
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