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Soil carbon and nitrogen erosion in forested catchments: implications for erosion-induced terrestrial carbon sequestration

  • Author(s): Stacy, E;
  • Hart, SC;
  • Hunsaker, CT;
  • Johnson, DW;
  • Berhe, AA
  • et al.
Abstract

Abstract. Soil erosion plays important roles in organic matter (OM) storage and persistence in dynamic landscapes. The biogeochemical implication of soil erosion has been a focus of a growing number of studies over the last two decades. However, most of the available studies are conducted in agricultural systems or grasslands, and hence very little information is available on rate and nature of soil organic matter (SOM) eroded from forested upland ecosystems. In the southern parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, we determined the rate of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) eroded from two sets of catchments under different climatic conditions to determine how the amount and distribution of precipitation affects lateral distribution of topsoil and associated SOM. We quantified sediment and SOM exported annually (for water years 2005–2011) from four low-order, snow-dominated catchments, and four low-order catchments that receive a mix of rain, and snow and compared it to soil at three different landform positions from the source slopes to determine if there is selective transport of some soil OM components. We found that the amount of sediment exported varied from 0.4 to 177 kg N ha-1, while export of particulate C was between 0.025 and 4.2 kg C ha-1, compared to export of particulate N that was between 0.001 and 0.04 kg ha-1. Sediment yield and composition showed high interannual variation, with higher C and N concentrations in sediment collected in drier years. In our study catchments, erosion laterally mobilized OM-rich topsoil and litter material, some of which readily enters streams owing to the topography in these catchments that includes steep slopes adjacent to stream channels. Annual lateral sediment mass, C, and N fluxes were positively and strongly correlated with stream flows. Our results suggest that variability in climate, represented by stream discharge, is a primary factor controlling the magnitude of C and N eroded from upland temperature forest catchments.

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