Agricultural land use and management practices affect the global climate due to greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes and changes in land surface properties. Increased albedo has the potential to counteract the radiative forcing and warming effect of emitted GHGs. Thus considering albedo could be important to evaluate and improve agricultural systems in light of climate change, but the albedo of individual practices is usually not known. This study quantified the albedo of individual crops under regional conditions, and evaluated the importance of albedo change for the climate impact of current crop production using life cycle assessment (LCA). Seven major crops in southern Sweden were assessed relative to a land reference without cultivation, represented by semi-natural grassland. Crop-specific albedo data were obtained from a MODIS product (MCD43A1 v6), by combining its spatial response pattern with geodata on agricultural land use 2011-2020. Fluxes of GHGs were estimated using regional data and models, including production of inputs, field operations, and soil nitrogen and carbon balances. Ten-year mean albedo was 6-11% higher under the different crops than under the reference. Crop-specific albedo varied between years due to weather fluctuations, but differences between crops were largely consistent. Increased albedo countered the GHG impact from production of inputs and field operations by 17-47% measured in GWP100, and the total climate impact was warming. Using a time-dependent metric, all crops had a net cooling impact on global mean surface temperature on shorter timescales due to albedo (3-12 years under different crops), but a net warming impact on longer timescales due to GHG emissions. The methods and data presented in this study could support increasingly comprehensive assessments of agricultural systems. Further research is needed to integrate climatic effects of land use on different spatial and temporal scales, and direct and indirect consequences from a systems perspective.
Keywords: Albedo; Biophysical effects; Climate impact; LULUC; Land cover change; Life cycle assessment.
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