For almost 20 y there has been a growing recognition that erosion and associated lateral movement of SOC does not necessarily result in a net CO2 source from terrestrial sources to the atmosphere. Eroded SOC may undergo mineralization to CO2 at a more rapid pace than it would have in situ, but the eroding ecosystem continues to generate SOC at a potentially modified rate, and the eroding profile may also experience changing SOC mineralization rates. No one knows how these process rates may change upon erosion. Years ago, we introduced a model that computes the influence of erosion on biosphere-atmosphere CO2 exchange for any profile of interest. The model permits the user to test how assumptions of changing SOC production and mineralization can influence the degree to which erosion induces a net CO2 sink or source. Here we present an analogous model depicting how deposition of eroded SOC also can result in altered biosphere-atmosphere CO2 exchange. We employ both models to investigate how erosion and deposition in two contrasting forested regions may influence regional C budgets. Runoff-induced erosion in a boreal forest occurs at low rates, but removes C-rich, organic material; anthropogenically-enhanced erosion in a warm temperate forest removed both O- and mineral-rich A-horizons. Model runs (100 y) suggest that even though the great volume of mineral soil eroded from the temperate forest was relatively low-SOC, high erosion rates prompted greater potential for erosion to serve as a net CO2 sink compared to the boreal forest where C-rich material was lost but erosion rates remained low. The models further suggest that changes in SOC production and mineralization at eroding sites in both forest types are a greater influence on CO2 source or sink strength than analogous changes at depositional sites. The fate of eroded material and the influence of erosion and deposition on SOC dynamics remain knowledge gaps critical for projecting atmospheric CO2.
Billings, S.A., D. Richter, S.E. Ziegler, K.L. Prestegaard (2016): Projecting soil feedbacks to atmospheric CO2 following erosion and deposition on centennial timescales in two contrasting forests: A study of critical zone-atmosphere exchange. American Geophysical Union 2016 Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.