Research was conducted to determine the optical properties of eight plastic mulches and evaluate their effects on soil, mulch, and air temperatures in the field. Optical properties of the mulches were measured in the laboratory in the shortwave (0.3 to 1.1 μm) and longwave (2.5 to 25 μm) wavebands using a spectroradiometer and Fourier transform infrared spectrophotometer, respectively. Additionally, each mulch was installed on a fine sandy loam soil near Manhattan, Kan. Air and soil temperatures were measured 5 cm above and 10 cm below the surface, respectively. Measurements of longwave radiation emitted and reflected from the surface were used to approximate the apparent temperature of the surface. Shortwave transmittance of the mulches ranged from 0.01 to 0.84, and shortwave reflectance ranged from 0.01 to 0.48, with the greatest reflectance from white and aluminized mulches. Infrared transmittance ranged from 0.87 for a black photodegradable mulch to 0.09 for aluminized material. Air temperatures at 5 cm were similar for all mulch treatments, but were typically 3 to 5C higher than the air at 1.5 m during the day. Midday soil temperatures were highest beneath mulches with high shortwave absorptance (black plastics) or those with high shortwave transmittance coupled with low longwave transmittance. Apparent surface temperatures approached 70 to 80C during midday, with the highest temperatures occurring on mulches with high shortwave absorptance. For some mulches, both, shortwave and longwave optical properties of the plastic governed the level of radiative heating. Our results suggest that conduction of heat between the plastic and the soil surface also affects the extent of soil heating in a mulched field.
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