Phenology and species determine growing-season albedo increase at the altitudinal limit of shrub growth in the sub-Arctic

Scott N. Williamson, Isabel C. Barrio, David S. Hik, John A. Gamon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Arctic warming is resulting in reduced snow cover and increased shrub growth, both of which have been associated with altered land surface–atmospheric feedback processes involving sensible heat flux, ground heat flux and biogeochemical cycling. Using field measurements, we show that two common Arctic shrub species (Betula glandulosa and Salix pulchra), which are largely responsible for shrub encroachment in tundra, differed markedly in albedo and that albedo of both species increased as growing season progressed when measured at their altitudinal limit. A moveable apparatus was used to repeatedly measure albedo at six precise spots during the summer of 2012, and resampled in 2013. Contrary to the generally accepted view of shrub-covered areas having low albedo in tundra, full-canopy prostrate B. glandulosa had almost the highest albedo of all surfaces measured during the peak of the growing season. The higher midsummer albedo is also evident in localized MODIS albedo aggregated from 2000 to 2013, which displays a similar increase in growing-season albedo. Using our field measurements, we show the ensemble summer increase in tundra albedo counteracts the generalized effect of earlier spring snow melt on surface energy balance by approximately 40%. This summer increase in albedo, when viewed in absolute values, is as large as the difference between the forest and tundra transition. These results indicate that near future (<50 years) changes in growing-season albedo related to Arctic vegetation change are unlikely to be particularly large and might constitute a negative feedback to climate warming in certain circumstances. Future efforts to calculate energy budgets and a sensible heating feedback in the Arctic will require more detailed information about the relative abundance of different ground cover types, particularly shrub species and their respective growth forms and phenology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3621-3631
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Betula
  • Salix
  • albedo
  • alpine tundra
  • growing season
  • phenology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Phenology and species determine growing-season albedo increase at the altitudinal limit of shrub growth in the sub-Arctic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this