About the Assessment of Cover Crop Albedo Potential Cooling Effect: Risk of the Darkening Feedback Loop Effects

Pique, Gaétan ; Carrer, Dominique ; Lugato, Emanuele ; Fieuzal, Rémy ; Garisoain, Raphaël ; Ceschia, Eric

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Today societies face an unprecedented challenge to limit global warming and restore agricultural soils. Recent studies show that the introduction of cover crops over Europe could result in a cooling impact due to an increase in soil organic carbon stocks, a decrease in the use of fertilizers, and an increase in surface albedo of the croplands. Based on the use of remote sensing data, land cover database, meteorological data, national agricultural statistics, and ground measurements, a generic model was developed to simulate the radiative forcing following the change in surface albedo. This article analyzes the impact of the introduction of cover crops in Europe during the fallow periods. Compared to previous studies, this work discusses: (i) The maximum greening potential in Europe and the associated indirect surface properties changes (ii) for snowfall episodes, and (iii) due to an increase in organic matter. This study shows that the mitigation potential of cover crops through albedo effects could reach 6.74 MtCO2-eq.yr−1 by extending the periods of the introduction of the cover crops to all possible fallow periods. This mitigation could be limited to 5.68 MtCO2-eq.yr−1 if the impact of snowfalls is considered. This would be equivalent to 9.12 gCO2.m−2.yr−1. Finally, this study investigates the feedback loop due to soil darkening with soil organic carbon content increase when cover crops are introduced, considering two scenarios. The first considers the soil organic carbon content increase following repeated incorporation of cover crop biomass into the soil, simulated with the DayCent model. The second, more conceptual and extreme scenario aims at alerting on the possible impact of a combination of carbon farming practices, such as biochar or organic amendments. Our results show that this effect could lead to a loss of 20% of the climate benefit (i.e., 5.39 MtCO2-eq.yr−1). In conclusion, this study shows that cover crops have a strong potential for climate mitigation through direct albedo effects (soil coverage). However, once introduced, cropland should be permanently covered by vegetation or straws in order to avoid this darkening feedback loop effect.</p>

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