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Significance of vegetation cover differences on albedo and soil carbon on a basaltic sandplain in southern Iceland

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York, USA

Studies have documented that recent anthropogenic climate change has caused increased vegetative growth on arctic tundra landscapes, resulting in increased carbon storage (in biomass and soil), but decreased albedo and increased energy budgets. The glacial outwash sandplains (sandurs) of Iceland offer an interesting landscape comparison. Here, glacio-fluvial deposits of basaltic volcanic sands and gravels form a low albedo surface (mean 0.11) that stores little carbon (< 0.1%). Conversion of the barren surface to a moss-dominated heath in recent decades increased albedo substantially (mean 0.24), contrary to the general trend on Arctic tundra landscapes, and also increased soil carbon (> 0.2%). The environmental benefits of increased albedo and carbon sequestration highlight the importance of considering the specific processes of landscape change in projecting future environmental changes.
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