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Estimating soil carbon sequestration under elevated CO subscript 2(B by combining carbon isotope labelling with soil carbon cycle modelling



Estimating soil carbon sequestration under elevated CO subscript 2(B by combining carbon isotope labelling with soil carbon cycle modelling



Global change biology 12(10): 1909-1921



Elevated CO subscript 2(B concentrations generally stimulate grassland productivity, but herbaceous plants have only a limited capacity to sequester extra carbon (C) in biomass. However, increased primary productivity under elevated CO subscript 2(B could result in increased transfer of C into soils where it could be stored for prolonged periods and exercise a negative feedback on the rise in atmospheric CO subscript 2(B. Measuring soil C sequestration directly is notoriously difficult for a number of methodological reasons. Here, we present a method that combines C isotope labelling with soil C cycle modelling to partition net soil sequestration into changes in new C fixed over the experimental duration (Cnew) and pre-experimental C (Cold). This partitioning is advantageous because the Cnew accumulates whereas Cold is lost in the course of time ((SE(BCnew>0 whereas (SE(BCold<0). We applied this method to calcareous grassland exposed to 600 (So(BL CO subscript 2(B L superscript -1(B for 6 years. The CO subscript 2(B used for atmospheric enrichment was depleted in superscript 13(BC relative to the background atmosphere, and this distinct isotopic signature was used to quantify net soil Cnew fluxes under elevated CO subscript 2(B. Using superscript 13(BC/ superscript 12(BC mass balance and inverse modelling, the Rothamsted model 'RothC' predicted gross soil Cnew inputs under elevated CO subscript 2(B and the decomposition of Cold. The modelled soil C pools and fluxes were in good agreement with experimental data. C isotope data indicated a net sequestration of [almost equal to]90 g Cnew m superscript -2(B yr superscript -1(B in elevated CO subscript 2(B. Accounting for Cold-losses, this figure was reduced to [almost equal to]30 g C m superscript -2(B yr superscript -1(B at elevated CO subscript 2(B; the elevated CO subscript 2(B-effect on net C sequestration was in the range of[almost equal to]10 g C m superscript -2(B yr superscript -1(B. A sensitivity and error analysis suggests that the modelled data are relatively robust. However, elevated CO subscript 2(B-specific mechanisms may necessitate a separate parameterization at ambient and elevated CO subscript 2(B; these include increased soil moisture due to reduced leaf conductance, soil disaggregation as a consequence of increased soil moisture, and priming effects. These effects could accelerate decomposition of Cold in elevated CO subscript 2(B so that the CO subscript 2(B enrichment effect may be zero or even negative. Overall, our findings suggest that the C sequestration potential of this grassland under elevated CO subscript 2(B is rather limited.

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