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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Radiocarbon constraints imply reduced carbon uptake by soils during the 21st century

  • Author(s): He, Y
  • Trumbore, SE
  • Torn, MS
  • Harden, JW
  • Vaughn, LJS
  • Allison, SD
  • Randerson, JT
  • et al.

Soil is the largest terrestrial carbon reservoir and may influence the sign and magnitude of carbon cycle-climate feedbacks. Many Earth system models (ESMs) estimate a significant soil carbon sink by 2100, yet the underlying carbon dynamics determining this response have not been systematically tested against observations.We used14C data from157 globally distributed soil profiles sampled to 1-meter depth to show that ESMs underestimated the mean age of soil carbon by a factor of more than six (430 ± 50 years versus 3100 ± 1800 years). Consequently, ESMs overestimated the arbon sequestration potential of soils by a factor of nearly two (40 ± 27%).These inconsistencies suggest that ESMs must better represent carbon stabilization processes and the turnover time of slow and passive reservoirs when simulating future atmospheric carbon dioxide dynamics.

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