Quantifying the missing link between forest albedo and productivity in the boreal zone
Abstract. Albedo and fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (FAPAR) determine the shortwave radiation balance and productivity of forests. Currently, the physical link between forest albedo and productivity is poorly understood, yet it is crucial for designing optimal forest management strategies for mitigating climate change. We investigated the relationships between boreal forest structure, albedo and FAPAR using a radiative transfer model called Forest Reflectance and Transmittance model FRT and extensive forest inventory data sets ranging from southern boreal forests to the northern tree line in Finland and Alaska (N = 1086 plots). The forests in the study areas vary widely in structure, species composition, and human interference, from intensively managed in Finland to natural growth in Alaska. We show that FAPAR of tree canopies (FAPARCAN) and albedo are tightly linked in boreal coniferous forests, but the relationship is weaker if the forest has broadleaved admixture, or if canopies have low leaf area and the composition of forest floor varies. Furthermore, the functional shape of the relationship between albedo and FAPARCAN depends on the angular distribution of incoming solar irradiance. We also show that forest floor can contribute to over 50 % of albedo or total ecosystem FAPAR. Based on our simulations, forest albedos can vary notably across the biome. Because of larger proportions of broadleaved trees, the studied plots in Alaska had higher albedo (0.141–0.184) than those in Finland (0.136–0.171) even though the albedo of pure coniferous forests was lower in Alaska. Our results reveal that variation in solar angle will need to be accounted for when evaluating climate effects of forest management in different latitudes. Furthermore, increasing the proportion of broadleaved trees in coniferous forests is the most important means of maximizing albedo without compromising productivity: based on our findings the potential of controlling forest density (i.e., basal area) to increase albedo may be limited compared to the effect of favoring broadleaved species.