skip to main content

Title: Divergent controls of soil organic carbon between observations and process-based models

The storage and cycling of soil organic carbon (SOC) are governed by multiple co-varying factors, including climate, plant productivity, edaphic properties, and disturbance history. Yet, it remains unclear which of these factors are the dominant predictors of observed SOC stocks, globally and within biomes, and how the role of these predictors varies between observations and process-based models. Here we use global observations and an ensemble of soil biogeochemical models to quantify the emergent importance of key state factors – namely, mean annual temperature, net primary productivity, and soil mineralogy – in explaining biome- to global-scale variation in SOC stocks. We use a machine-learning approach to disentangle the role of covariates and elucidate individual relationships with SOC, without imposing expected relationshipsa priori. While we observe qualitatively similar relationships between SOC and covariates in observations and models, the magnitude and degree of non-linearity vary substantially among the models and observations. Models appear to overemphasize the importance of temperature and primary productivity (especially in forests and herbaceous biomes, respectively), while observations suggest a greater relative importance of soil minerals. This mismatch is also evident globally. However, we observe agreement between observations and model outputs in select individual biomes – namely, temperate deciduous more » forests and grasslands, which both show stronger relationships of SOC stocks with temperature and productivity, respectively. This approach highlights biomes with the largest uncertainty and mismatch with observations for targeted model improvements. Understanding the role of dominant SOC controls, and the discrepancies between models and observations, globally and across biomes, is essential for improving and validating process representations in soil and ecosystem models for projections under novel future conditions.

« less
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1929393 1637686
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Wood formation consumes around 15% of the anthropogenic CO 2 emissions per year and plays a critical role in long-term sequestration of carbon on Earth. However, the exogenous factors driving wood formation onset and the underlying cellular mechanisms are still poorly understood and quantified, and this hampers an effective assessment of terrestrial forest productivity and carbon budget under global warming. Here, we used an extensive collection of unique datasets of weekly xylem tissue formation (wood formation) from 21 coniferous species across the Northern Hemisphere (latitudes 23 to 67°N) to present a quantitative demonstration that the onset of wood formation in Northern Hemisphere conifers is primarily driven by photoperiod and mean annual temperature (MAT), and only secondarily by spring forcing, winter chilling, and moisture availability. Photoperiod interacts with MAT and plays the dominant role in regulating the onset of secondary meristem growth, contrary to its as-yet-unquantified role in affecting the springtime phenology of primary meristems. The unique relationships between exogenous factors and wood formation could help to predict how forest ecosystems respond and adapt to climate warming and could provide a better understanding of the feedback occurring between vegetation and climate that is mediated by phenology. Our study quantifies the rolemore »of major environmental drivers for incorporation into state-of-the-art Earth system models (ESMs), thereby providing an improved assessment of long-term and high-resolution observations of biogeochemical cycles across terrestrial biomes.« less
  2. Large stocks of soil organic carbon (SOC) have accumulated in the Northern Hemisphere permafrost region, but their current amounts and future fate remain uncertain. By analyzing dataset combining >2700 soil profiles with environmental variables in a geospatial framework, we generated spatially explicit estimates of permafrost-region SOC stocks, quantified spatial heterogeneity, and identified key environmental predictors. We estimated that 1014 − 175 + 194 Pg C are stored in the top 3 m of permafrost region soils. The greatest uncertainties occurred in circumpolar toe-slope positions and in flat areas of the Tibetan region. We found that soil wetness index and elevation are the dominant topographic controllers and surface air temperature (circumpolar region) and precipitation (Tibetan region) are significant climatic controllers of SOC stocks. Our results provide first high-resolution geospatial assessment of permafrost region SOC stocks and their relationships with environmental factors, which are crucial for modeling the response of permafrost affected soils to changing climate.
  3. Abstract The rarity of rapid campaigns to characterize soils across scales limits opportunities to investigate variation in soil carbon stocks (SOC) storage simultaneously at large and small scales, with and without site-level replication. We used data from two complementary campaigns at 40 sites in the United States across the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), in which one campaign sampled profiles from closely co-located intensive plots and physically composited similar horizons, and the other sampled dozens of pedons across the landscape at each site. We demonstrate some consistencies between these distinct designs, while also revealing that within-site replication reveals patterns and predictors of SOC stocks not detectable with non-replicated designs. Both designs demonstrate that SOC stocks of whole soil profiles vary across continental-scale climate gradients. However, broad climate patterns may mask the importance of localized variation in soil physicochemical properties, as captured by within-site sampling, especially for SOC stocks of discrete genetic horizons. Within-site replication also reveals examples in which expectations based on readily explained continental-scale patterns do not hold. For example, even wide-ranging drainage class sequences within landscapes do not duplicate the clear differences in profile SOC stocks across drainage classes at the continental scale, and physicochemical factors associated withmore »increasing B horizon SOC stocks at continental scales frequently do not follow the same patterns within landscapes. Because inferences from SOC studies are a product of their context (where, when, how), this study provides context—in terms of SOC stocks and the factors that influence them—for others assessing soils and the C cycle at NEON sites.« less
  4. Abstract

    Arctic ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of Arctic amplification. Here, we assessed the climatic impacts of low-end, 1.5 °C, and 2.0 °C global temperature increases above pre-industrial levels, on the warming of terrestrial ecosystems in northern high latitudes (NHL, above 60 °N including pan-Arctic tundra and boreal forests) under the framework of the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project phase 2b protocol. We analyzed the simulated changes of net primary productivity, vegetation biomass, and soil carbon stocks of eight ecosystem models that were forced by the projections of four global climate models and two atmospheric greenhouse gas pathways (RCP2.6 and RCP6.0). Our results showed that considerable impacts on ecosystem carbon budgets, particularly primary productivity and vegetation biomass, are very likely to occur in the NHL areas. The models agreed on increases in primary productivity and biomass accumulation, despite considerable inter-model and inter-scenario differences in the magnitudes of the responses. The inter-model variability highlighted the inadequacies of the present models, which fail to consider important components such as permafrost and wildfire. The simulated impacts were attributable primarily to the rapid temperature increases in the NHL and the greater sensitivity of northern vegetation to warming, which contrasted with themore »less pronounced responses of soil carbon stocks. The simulated increases of vegetation biomass by 30–60 Pg C in this century have implications for climate policy such as the Paris Agreement. Comparison between the results at two warming levels showed the effectiveness of emission reductions in ameliorating the impacts and revealed unavoidable impacts for which adaptation options are urgently needed in the NHL ecosystems.

    « less
  5. We conducted a meta-analysis of carbon and oxygen isotopes from tree ring chronologies representing 34 species across 10 biomes to better understand the environmental drivers and physiological mechanisms leading to historical changes in tree intrinsic water use efficiency (iWUE), or the ratio of net photosynthesis (Anet) to stomatal conductance (gs), over the last century. We show a ∼40% increase in tree iWUE globally since 1901, coinciding with a ∼34% increase in atmospheric CO2(Ca), although mean iWUE, and the rates of increase, varied across biomes and leaf and wood functional types. While Cawas a dominant environmental driver of iWUE, the effects of increasing Cawere modulated either positively or negatively by climate, including vapor pressure deficit (VPD), temperature, and precipitation, and by leaf and wood functional types. A dual carbon–oxygen isotope approach revealed that increases inAnetdominated the observed increased iWUE in ∼83% of examined cases, supporting recent reports of global increases inAnet, whereas reductions ingsoccurred in the remaining ∼17%. This meta-analysis provides a strong process-based framework for predicting changes in tree carbon gain and water loss across biomes and across wood and leaf functional types, and the interactions between Caand other environmental factors have important implications for the coupled carbon–hydrologic cycles undermore »future climate. Our results furthermore challenge the idea of widespread reductions ingsas the major driver of increasing tree iWUE and will better inform Earth system models regarding the role of trees in the global carbon and water cycles.

    « less