Moss-biocrusts strongly decrease soil surface albedo, altering land-surface energy balance in a dryland ecosystem

Bo Xiao, Matthew A. Bowker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Land surface albedo measures the degree to which the sun's radiation is absorbed or reflected, and thus can be highly influential in global climate trends, local weather phenomena, and biological processes. As an extensive living cover in drylands, biocrusts cover substantial land surface but their potential influences on surface albedo and energy balance are underdocumented, and its temporal dynamic is virtually unknown. We continuously measured the surface albedo, land-surface energy balance, temperature and moisture of moss-biocrust covered soil and bare soil for two years, and measured the surface color and roughness of the two land cover types. Our results showed that the surface albedo of the biocrusts was 43.4% lower than that of the bare soil, due to the increased darkness (43.7%) and roughness (90.4%) together with increased moisture (20.7%) of the biocrust layer. Through time, the albedo of the biocrusts were negatively and linearly related with surface soil temperature or moisture, which resulted in lower albedo in summer and higher albedo in other seasons. As a result of decreased albedo, biocrusts decreased outgoing short-wave radiation by 44.8% in comparison to the bare soil, and consequently they increased net short-wave radiation by 11.4% and net all-wave solar radiation by 22.9% However, the increased energy absorption by the biocrusts did not consistently increase soil temperature; instead, soil temperature increased by up to 9.3 °C under dry conditions but decreased by as much as 11.4 °C under wet conditions, resulting in a net cooling. This indicates that the temperature regimes of the biocrust-covered soil were not determined only by albedo, but also by modification of soil thermal properties by biocrusts. Because biocrusts are highly responsive to land use, it appears that altered albedo and energy balance may be one of the ways in which human activity can impact climate and weather.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number140425
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Biological soil crust
  • Chinese Loess Plateau
  • Microbiotic crust
  • Soil reflectance
  • Soil temperature
  • Solar radiation balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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