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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Accumulation and turnover of carbon in organic and mineral soils of the BOREAS northern study area

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Rates of input, accumulation, and turnover of C differ markedly within soil profiles and in soils with different drainage in the BOREAS northern study area. Soil C storage increases from ∼3 kg C m−2 in well-drained, sandy soils to greater than 100 kg C m−2 in wetlands. Two modes of C accumulation were observed in upland soil profiles. Large annual C inputs (0.06–0.1 kg C m−2 yr−1) and slow decomposition (turnover times of 6–250 years) lead to rapid C accumulation in regrowing surface moss and detrital layers following fire. Deep organic layers that have accumulated over the millennia since the initiation of soil development, and are located below the most recent charred horizon, show slower rates of input (0.015–0.03 kg C m−2 yr−1) and turnover (100–1600 years) and accumulate C about 10 times slower than surface detrital layers. Rates of C input to soils derived from C and 14C data were in accord with net primary production estimates, with highest rates of input (0.14–0.6 kg C m−2 yr−1) in wetlands. Turnover times for C in surface detrital layers were 6–15 years for well-drained sand soils that showed highest soil temperatures in summer, 30–40 years for wetlands, and 36–250 years for uplands with thick moss cover and black spruce trees. Long (>100 years) turnover times in upland black spruce/clay soils most likely reflect the influence of woody debris incorporated into detrital layers. Turnover times for deep organic and mineral layer C were controlled by drainage, with fastest turnover (80–130 years) in well-drained sand soils and slowest turnover (>3000 years) in wetlands. Total C accumulation rates, which account for C losses from both deep organic and surface detrital layers, are close to zero for sand/jack pine soils, 0.003–0.01 kg C m−2 yr−1 for moderately to poorly drained sites in mature forest stands, and 0.03 kg C m−2 yr−1 for a productive fen. Decomposition of organic matter more than several decades old accounts for 9–22% of total heterotrophic respiration at these sites. The rates of C accumulation derived here are decadal averages for specific stands and will vary as stands age or undergo disturbance. Extrapolation to larger regions and longer timescales, where burning offsets C gains in moss layers, will yield smaller rates of C storage.

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