Canadian Forest Service Publications

Boreal lichen woodlands: a possible negative feedback to climate change in eastern North America. 2011. Bernier, P.Y.; Desjardins, R.L.; Karimi-Zindashty, Y.; Worth, D.; Beaudoin, A.; Luo, Y.; Wang, S. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 151: 521-528.

Year: 2011

Available from: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 32133

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)


Because of successive forest fires, closed-canopy black spruce forests are susceptible to a shift towards open lichen–spruce woodlands in parts of the boreal forest of eastern North America. The shift from dark black spruce canopies to pale lichen ground cover offers a dramatic contrast in reflectance that may compensate for the CO2 emissions from forest fires in terms of radiative forcing. We have therefore looked at the climate change feedback that would result from the generation of lichen woodlands through changes in albedo and in stored carbon. Using albedo estimates based on MODIS imagery and incoming solar radiation for the period between 2000 and 2008 along with forest biomass estimates for eastern Canada, we have estimated that net radiative forcing for the conversion from closed-canopy coniferous forests to open lichen woodlands would be about −0.12nWm-2 ha-1, and would therefore generate a cooling effect in the atmosphere. Based on current estimates of area in open lichen woodlands within the closed-canopy black spruce–moss forests of eastern Canada, we estimate that a current net forcing of −0.094mWm-2 has already arisen from such conversions. As projections of future climate have been linked to increased probability of forest fires, the generation of open lichen woodlands provides a possible negative feedback to climate change. Results also suggest that carbon sequestration through the afforestation of boreal lichen woodlands may not provide a climate change mitigation benefit.

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