Kirschbaum, M.U.F., Saggar, S., Tate, K.R., Thakur, K., Giltrap, D. (2013). Quantifying the climate–change consequences of shifting land use between forest and agriculture. Science of the Total Environment 465: 314-324



Land-use change between forestry and agriculture can cause large net emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), and the respective land uses associated with forest and pasture lead to different on–going emission rates of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) and have different surface albedo. Here, we quantify the overall net radiative forcing and consequent temperature change from specified land–use changes.

These different radiative agents cause radiative forcing of different magnitudes and with different time profiles. Carbon emission can be very high when forests are cleared. Upon reforestation, the former carbon stocks can be regained, but the rate of carbon sequestration is much slower than the rate of carbon loss from deforestation. A production forest may undergo repeated harvest and regrowth cycles, each involving periods of C emission and release.

Agricultural land, especially grazed pastures, have much higher N2O emissions than forests because of their generally higher nitrogen status that can be further enhanced through intensification of the nitrogen cycle by animal excreta. Because of its longevity in the atmosphere, N2O concentrations build up nearly linearly over many decades. CH4 emissions can be very high from ruminant animals grazing on pastures. Because of its short atmospheric longevity, the CH4 concentration from a converted pasture accumulates for only a few decades before reaching a new equilibrium when emission of newly produced CH4 is balanced by the oxidation of previously emitted CH4. Albedo changes generally have the opposite radiative forcing from that of the GHGs and partly negate the radiative forcing by net GHG emissions. Overall and averaged over 100 years, CO2 is typically responsible for 50% of radiative forcing and CH4 and N2O for 25% each. Albedo changes can negate the radiative forcing by the three greenhouse gases by 20-25%.


Keywords: albedo, CO2; carbon stocks; greenhouse gas; methane, nitrous oxide, radiative forcing. 

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