Global patterns and controls of soil organic carbon dynamics as simulated by multiple terrestrial biosphere models: Current status and future directions

Hanqin Tian, Chaoqun Lu, Jia Yang, Kamaljit Banger, Deborah N. Huntzinger, Christopher R. Schwalm, Anna M. Michalak, Robert Cook, Philippe Ciais, Daniel Hayes, Maoyi Huang, Akihiko Ito, Atul K. Jain, Huimin Lei, Jiafu Mao, Shufen Pan, Wilfred M. Post, Shushi Peng, Benjamin Poulter, Wei RenDaniel Ricciuto, Kevin Schaefer, Xiaoying Shi, Bo Tao, Weile Wang, Yaxing Wei, Qichun Yang, Bowen Zhang, Ning Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations

Abstract

Soil is the largest organic carbon (C) pool of terrestrial ecosystems, and C loss from soil accounts for a large proportion of land-atmosphere C exchange. Therefore, a small change in soil organic C (SOC) can affect atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and climate change. In the past decades, a wide variety of studies have been conducted to quantify global SOC stocks and soil C exchange with the atmosphere through site measurements, inventories, and empirical/process-based modeling. However, these estimates are highly uncertain, and identifying major driving forces controlling soil C dynamics remains a key research challenge. This study has compiled century-long (1901-2010) estimates of SOC storage and heterotrophic respiration (Rh) from 10 terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs) in the Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project and two observation-based data sets. The 10 TBM ensemble shows that global SOC estimate ranges from 425 to 2111 Pg C (1 Pg = 1015 g) with a median value of 1158 Pg C in 2010. The models estimate a broad range of Rh from 35 to 69 Pg C yr-1 with a median value of 51 Pg C yr-1 during 2001-2010. The largest uncertainty in SOC stocks exists in the 40-65°N latitude whereas the largest cross-model divergence in Rh are in the tropics. The modeled SOC change during 1901-2010 ranges from -70 Pg C to 86 Pg C, but in some models the SOC change has a different sign from the change of total C stock, implying very different contribution of vegetation and soil pools in determining the terrestrial C budget among models. The model ensemble-estimated mean residence time of SOC shows a reduction of 3.4 years over the past century, which accelerate C cycling through the land biosphere. All the models agreed that climate and land use changes decreased SOC stocks, while elevated atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen deposition over intact ecosystems increased SOC stocks - even though the responses varied significantly among models. Model representations of temperature and moisture sensitivity, nutrient limitation, and land use partially explain the divergent estimates of global SOC stocks and soil C fluxes in this study. In addition, a major source of systematic error in model estimations relates to nonmodeled SOC storage in wetlands and peatlands, as well as to old C storage in deep soil layers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)775-792
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Volume29
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015

Keywords

  • belowground processes
  • heterotrophic respiration (Rh)
  • mean residence time (MRT)
  • soil carbon dynamics model
  • soil organic carbon (SOC)
  • uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science

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