The representation of non-equilibrium soil types in earth system models and its impact on carbon cycle projections

Friday, December 16, 2016 - 16:28
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Soils hold the largest reactive pool of carbon (C) on earth. Global soil organic C stocks (0-200 cm depth plus full peatland depth) are estimated to ~2200 Pg C (adapted from Hugelius et al., 2014, Köchy et al., 2015 and Batjes, 2016). Soil C stocks in Earth system models (ESMs) can be generated by running the model over a longer time period until soil C pools are in or near steady-state. Inherent in this concept is the idea that soil C stocks are in (quasi)equilibrium as determined by the balance of net ecosystem input to soil organic matter and its turnover. The rate of turnover is sometimes subdivided into several pools and the rates are affected by various environmental factors. Here we break down the empirically based estimates of global soil C pools into equilibrium-type soils which current (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5; CMIP5) generation ESMs are set-up to represent and non-equilibrium type soils which are generally not represented in current ESMs. We define equilibrium soils as those where pedogenesis (and associated soil C formation) is not significantly limited by the environmental factors perennial soil freezing, waterlogging/anoxia or limited unconsolidated soil substrate. This is essentially all permafrost-free mineral soils that are not in a wetland or alpine setting. On the other hand, non-equlibrium soils are defined as permafrost soils, peatlands and alpine soils with a limited fine-soil matrix. Based on geospatial analyses of state-of-the-art datasets on soil C stocks, we estimate that the global soil C pool is divided roughly equally between equilibrium and non-equlibrium type soils. We discuss the ways in which this result affects C cycling in ESMs and projections of soil C sensitivity under a changing climate.

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