Active Amplification of the Terrestrial Albedo to Mitigate Climate Change: An Exploratory Study

  • Robert M. HamweyEmail author


To date, international efforts to mitigate climate change have focussed on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the energy, transportation and agriculture sectors, and on sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide in forests. Here, the potential to complement these efforts by actions to enhance the reflectance of solar insolation by the human settlement and grassland components of the Earth's terrestrial surface is explored. Preliminary estimates derived using a static two dimensional radiative transfer model indicate that such efforts could amplify the overall planetary albedo enough to offset the current global annual average level of radiative forcing caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases by as much as 30% or 0.76 Wm− 2. Terrestrial albedo amplification may thus extend, by about 25 years, the time available to advance the development and use of low-emission energy conversion technologies which ultimately remain essential to mitigate long-term climate change. While a scoping analysis indicates the technical feasibility of sufficiently enhancing human settlement and grassland albedos to levels needed to achieve reductions in radiative forcing projected here, additional study is required on two fronts. Firstly, the modelled radiative forcing reductions are static estimates. As they would generate climate feedbacks, more detailed dynamic climate modelling would be needed to confirm the stationary value of the radiative forcing reduction that would result from land surface albedo amplification. Secondly, land surface albedo amplification schemes may have important economic and environmental impacts. Accurate ex ante impact assessments would be required to validate global implementation of related measures as a viable mitigation strategy.


albedo atmosphere bioengineering climate modelling climate change mitigation geoengineering grasslands human settlements land use 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Apps, M. et al.: 2001, ‘Technological and Economic Potential of Options to Enhance, Maintain, and Manage Biological Carbon Reservoirs and Geo-engineering’ in B. Metz et al. (eds), Climate Change 2001: Mitigation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, Ch. 4, pp. 303–343.Google Scholar
  2. Armstrong, R., Brodzik, M.J. and Knowles, K.: 2003, Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover, Version 2. Greenbelt, MD, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.Google Scholar
  3. Asner, G.P., Wessman, C.A., Schimel, D.S. and Archer, S.: 1998, ‘Variability in Leaf and Litter Optical Properties: Implications for BRDF Model Inversions Using AVHRR, MODIS, and MISR’, Remote Sensing of Environment 63, 243–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Asner, G.P.: 1998, ‘Biophysical and Biochemical Sources of Variability in Canopy Reflectance’, Remote Sensing of Environment 64, 234–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. ASTM: 2003, ASTM G173-03 Tables: Extraterrestrial Spectrum, Terrestrial Global 37 deg South Facing Tilt and Direct Normal+Circumsolar, West Conshohocken, PA, ASTM International.Google Scholar
  6. Balk, D., Deichmann, U. and Yetman, G.: 2004, ‘Gridded Population of the World (GPW), Version 2: Coarse-resolution grids for 1990 and 1995’, in F.G. Hall, G. Collatz, S. Los, E. Brown de Colstoun and D. Landis (eds), ISLSCP Initiative II Data Collection, Washington DC, NASA.Google Scholar
  7. Barducci, A., Guzzi, D, Marcoionni, P. and Pippi, I.: 2005, Atmospheric effects correction of CHRIS data acquired over San Rossore for their assimilation in biochemical models, in H. Lacoste (ed.), Proceedings of the Third CHRIS/Proba Workshop, 21–23 March 2005, ESRIN, Frascati, Italy, European Space Agency, ESA SP-593, Noordwijk, NL, ESTEC.Google Scholar
  8. Betts, R.A.: 2000, ‘Offset of the potential carbon sink from boreal forestation by decreases in surface albedo’, Nature 408, 187–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bonan, G.B., Pollard, D. and Thompson, S. L.: 1992, ‘Effects of Boreal Forest Vegetation on Global Climate’, Nature 359, 716–718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bonan, G.B.: 1995, ‘Land-Atmosphere CO2 Exchange Simulated by a Land Surface Process Model Coupled to an Atmospheric General Circulation Model’, Journal of Geophysical Research 100, 2817–2831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bonan, G.B.: 1996, A Land Surface model for Ecological, Hydrological, and Atmospheric Studies, NCAR Technical Note NCAR/TN-417+STR, Boulder, CO, National Center for Atmospheric Research.Google Scholar
  12. Bonan, G.B.: 1997, ‘Effects of Land Use on the Climate of the United States’, Climatic Change 37, 449–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bondada, B.R. and Oosterhuis, D.M.: 2000, ‘Comparative epidermal ultrastructure of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) leaf, bract and capsule wall’, Annals of Botany 86, 1143–1152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Charney, J., Quirk, W.J., Chow, S.-H. and Kornfeld, J.: 1977, ‘A Comparative Study of the Effects of Albedo Change on Drought in Semi-Arid Regions’, Journal of Atmospheric Science 34, 1366–1385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. CIESIN (Center for International Earth Science Information Network): 2000, Gridded Population of the World (GPW) Version 2, Palisades, NY, Colombia University.Google Scholar
  16. Clark, R.N., Swayze, G.A., Wise, R., Livo, K.E., Hoefen, T.M., Kokaly, R.F. and Sutley, S.J.: 2003, USGS Digital Spectral Library splib05a, Open File Report 03-395, Washington, D.C., United States Geological Survey.Google Scholar
  17. Dai, Y., Zeng, X., Dickinson, R.E., Baker, I., Bonan, G.B., Bosilovich, M.G., Denning, A.S., Dirmeyer, P.A., Houser, P.R., Niu, G., Oleson, K.W., Schlosser C.A. and Yang, Z.-L.: 2003, ‘The common land model’, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84, 1013–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DeFries, R.S., Bounoua, L. and Collatz, G.J.: 2002, ‘Human modification of the landscape and surface climate in the next fifty years’, Global Change Biology 8, 438–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dirmeyer, P.A. and Shukla, J.: 1994, ‘Albedo as a Modulator of Climate Response to Tropical Deforestation’, Journal of Geophysical Research 99, 20863–20877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Flannery, B.P., Kheshgi, H., Marland, G., Maccracken, M.C., Komiyama, H., Broecker, W., Ishatani, H., Rosenberg, Norman, J., Steinberg, M., Wigley, T.L. and Morantine, M.: 1997, ‘Geoengineering climate,’ in R. Watts (ed.), Engineering Response to Global Climate Change: Planning a Research Development Agenda, Boca Raton, FL, Lewis, Ch 8, pp. 379–427.Google Scholar
  21. Govindasamy, B. and Caldeira, K.: 2000, ‘Geoengineering Earth's radiation balance to mitigate climate change’, Geophysical Research Letters 27, 2141–2144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grant, R.H., Heisler, G.M., Gao, W. and Jenks, M.: 2003, ‘Ultraviolet leaf reflectance of common urban trees and the prediction of reflectance from leaf surface characteristics’, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 120, 127–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hall, F.G., Collatz, G., Los, S., Brown de Colstoun, E. and Landis, D. (eds): 2005, ISLSCP Initiative II, Washington D.C., NASA.Google Scholar
  24. Hansen, J.E., Sato, M. and Ruedy, R.: 1997, ‘Radiative forcing and climate response’, Journal of Geophysical Research 102, 6831–6863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. HARC (Houston Advanced Research Center): 2004, Cool Houston: A Plan for Cooling the Region, Houston, TX, HARC.Google Scholar
  26. Hartmann, D.L.: 1994, Global Physical Climatology, San Diego, CA, Academic Press.Google Scholar
  27. Henderson-Sellers, A. and Gornitz, V.: 1984, ‘Possible climatic impacts of land cover transformations, with particular emphasis on tropical deforestation’, Climatic Change 6, 231–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Henderson-Sellers, A., Dickinson, R.E., Durbidge, T.B., Kennedy, P.J., McGuffie, K. and Pitman, A.J.: 1993, ‘Tropical deforestation: Modeling Local- to Regional-Scale Climate Change’, Journal of Geophysical Research 98, 7289–7315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hofmann, D.J., Butler, J.H., Dlugokencky, E.J., Elkins, J.W., Masarie, K., Montzka, S.A. and Tanset, P.: 2005, ‘Interannual changes in the global direct radiative climate forcing by well-mixed greenhouse gases over the past 25 years’, Proceedings of the 16th Conference on Climate Variability and Change, Washington, D.C., American Meteorological Society.Google Scholar
  30. Houghton J.T. et al. (eds): 2001, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Jin, M., Dickinson, R. and Zhang, D.-L.: 2005, ‘The Footprint of Urban Areas on Global Climate as Characterized by MODIS’, Journal of Climate 18, 1511–1565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Justice, C., Vermote, E., Townshend, J.R.G., Defries, R., Roy, D.P., Hall, D.K., Salomonson, V.V., Privette, J., Riggs, G., Strahler A. et al.: 1998, ‘The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS): Land Remote Sensing for Global Change Research’, IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 36, 1228–1249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Keeling, C.D. and Whorf, T.P.: 2005, ‘Atmospheric CO2 records from sites in the SIO air sampling network’, in Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change, Oak Ridge, TN, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.Google Scholar
  34. Keith, D.W.: 2000, ‘Geoengineering the climate: History and prospect’, Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 25, 245–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Keith, D.W.: 2001, ‘Geoengineering’, Nature 409, 420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Knapp, A.K. and Carter, G.A.: 1998, ‘Variability in leaf optical properties among 26 species from a broad range of habitat’, American Journal of Botany 85, 940–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Liang, S.: 2000, ‘Narrowband to broadband conversions of land surface albedo’, Remote Sensing of Environment 76, 213–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Loveland, T.R., Reed, B.C., Brown, J.F., Ohlen, D.O., Zhu, J., Yang, L. and Merchant, J.W.: 2000, ‘Development of a Global Land Cover Characteristics Database and IGBP DISCover from 1-km AVHRR data’, International Journal of Remote Sensing 21(6/7), 1303–1330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Myhre, G. and Myhre, A.: 2003, ‘Uncertainties in radiative forcing due to surface albedo changes caused by land use changes’, Journal of Climate 16, 1511–1524.Google Scholar
  40. Nakicenovic, N. and Swart, R. (eds): 2000, Emissions Scenarios, IPCC Special Report, Geneva, UNEP-WMO.Google Scholar
  41. NAS (National Academy of Sciences): 1992, Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming: Mitigation, Adaptation and the Science Base, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, Ch. 28, pp. 433–464.Google Scholar
  42. NIWA (New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research): 2004, ‘Carbon dioxide levels also rising fast in New Zealand’, Media Release of 13 October 2004, Auckland, NIWA.Google Scholar
  43. Ramaswamy, V. et al.: 2001, ‘Radiative Forcing of Climate Change’, in Houghton, J.T., et al. (eds), Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, Ch. 6, pp. 351–415.Google Scholar
  44. Rose, L.S., Akbari, H. and Taha, H.: 2003, Characterizing the Fabric of the Urban Environment: A Case Study of Greater Houston, Texas, Report LBNL-51448, Berkeley, CA., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.Google Scholar
  45. Rosenfeld, A.H., Romm, J.J., Akbari, H. and Lloyd, A.C.: 1997, ‘Painting the town white and green’, Technology Review, February/March, 54–59.Google Scholar
  46. Schaaf, C.B., Gao, F., Strahler, A., Lucht, W., Xiaowen, L., Trevor, T., Strugnell, N., Zhang, X., Jin, Y., Muller, J.-P. et al.: 2002, ‘First operational BRDF, albedo nadir reflectance products from MODIS’, Remote Sensing of Environment 83, 135–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sims, D.A. and Gamon, J.A.: 2002, ‘Relationships between leaf pigment content and spectral reflectance across a wide range of species, leaf structures and developmental stages’, Remote Sensing of Environment 81, 337–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sandmeier, St., Müller, Ch., Hosgood, B. and Andreoli, G.: 1998, ‘Sensitivity Analysis and Quality Assessment of Laboratory BRDF Data’, Remote Sensing of Environment 64, 176–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stackhouse, P.W., Cox, S.J., Gupta, S.K., Chiacchio, M. and Mikovitz, J.C.: 2001, ‘The WCRP/GEWEX surface radiation budget project release 2: An assessment of surface fluxes at 1 degree resolution’, in W.L. Smith and Y. Timofeyev (eds), IRS 2000: Current Problems in Atmospheric Radiation, Hampton, VA., A. Deepak Publishing, pp. 147.Google Scholar
  50. Sud, R.M. and Dengler, N.G.: 2000, ‘Cell Lineage of Vein Formation in Variegated Leaves of the C4 Grass Stenotaphrum secundatum’, Annals of Botany 86, 99–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Taha, H.: 2005, Urban Surface Modification as a Potential Ozone Air-quality Improvement Strategy in California — Phase One: Initial Mesoscale Modeling,Public Interest Energy Research Program, Report CEC-500-2005-128, Sacramento, CA, California Energy Commission.Google Scholar
  52. Tian, Y, Dickinson, R.E., Zhou, L., Zeng, X., Dai, Y., Myneni, R. B., Knyazikhin, Y., Zhang, X., Friedl, M., Yu, H.,Wu, W. and Shaikh, M.: 2004, ‘Comparison of seasonal and spatial variations of leaf area index and fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Common Land Model’, Journal of Geophysical Research 109, D01103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme): 2004, Potting, J. and Bakkes, J. (eds). The GEO-3 Scenarios 2002-2032: Quantification and analysis of environmental impacts, Nairobi, UNEP.Google Scholar
  54. UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat): 2003, Compilation and synthesis report on third national communications, FCCC/SBI/2003/7, Bonn, UNFCCC.Google Scholar
  55. USCB (US Census Bureau): 2005, International Data Base,, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  56. USDA (United States Department of Agriculture): 2002, ‘Development at the Urban Fringe and Beyond: Impacts on Agriculture and Rural Land,’ Agriculture Economic Report, AER-803, Washington DC, USDA.Google Scholar
  57. Wackernagel, M., Schulz, N.B., Deumling, D., Linares, A.C., Jenkins, M., Kapos, V., Monfreda, C., Loh, J., Myers, N., Norgaard, R., et al.: 2002, ‘Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 9266–9271.Google Scholar
  58. Xue, Y. and Shukla, J.: 1993, ‘The Influence of Land Surface Properties on Sahel Climate. Part I: Desertification’, Journal of Climate 6, 2232–2245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cen2eco: Centre for Economic and Ecological StudiesGenevaSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations