Abraha, M., J. Chen, S. K. Hamilton, P. Sciusco, C. Lei, G. Shirkey, J. Yuan, and G. P. Robertson. 2021. Albedo-induced global warming impact of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands converted to annual and perennial bioenergy crops. Environmental Research Letters 16:084059.
Climate benefit assessments of bioenergy crops often focus on biogeochemical impacts, paying little if any attention to biogeophysical impacts. However, land conversions required for large-scale bioenergy crop production are substantial and may directly affect the climate by altering surface energy balance. In the US, such land conversions are likely to be met in part by converting Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grassland to bioenergy crops. Here, we converted three 22 year old CRP smooth brome grass fields into no-till corn, switchgrass, or restored prairie bioenergy crops. We assessed the biogeophysical climate impact of the conversions using albedo changes relative to unconverted reference CRP grassland. The corn and perennial fields had higher annual albedo than the grassland they replaced—causing cooling of the local climate. The cooling of the corn field occurred solely during the non-growing season—especially when surfaces were snow-covered, whereas the cooling of the perennial fields was more prominent during the growing season. Compared to biogeochemical impacts with fossil fuel offsets for the same land conversions over eight years, the annual albedo-induced climate benefits add ∼35% and ∼78% to the annual biogeochemical benefits provided from the switchgrass and restored prairie fields, respectively, and offset ∼3.3% of the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the corn field. We conclude that albedo-induced climate mitigation from conversion of CRP lands to perennial but not annual bioenergy crops can be substantial, and future climate impact assessments of bioenergy crops should include albedo changes in addition to GHG balances in order to better inform climate policies.
Associated Treatment Areas:
GLBRC Scale-up Fields
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