Technical CommentsCLIMATE CHANGE

Response to comment on “Climate legacies drive global soil carbon stocks in terrestrial ecosystem”

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Science Advances  14 Mar 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 3, eaat1296
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat1296


The technical comment from Sanderman provides a unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms explaining the role of paleoclimate in the contemporary distribution of global soil C content, as reported in our article. Sanderman argues that the role of paleoclimate in predicting soil C content might be accounted for by using slowly changing soil properties as predictors. This is a key point that we highlighted in the supplementary materials of our article, which demonstrated, to the degree possible given available data, that soil properties alone cannot account for the unique portion of the variation in soil C explained by paleoclimate. Sanderman also raised an interesting question about how paleoclimate might explain the contemporary amount of C in our soils if such a C is relatively new, particularly in the topsoil layer. There is one relatively simple, yet plausible, reason. A soil with a higher amount of C, a consequence of accumulation over millennia, might promote higher contemporary C fixation rates, leading to a higher amount of new C in our soils. Thus, paleoclimate can be a good predictor of the amount of soil C in soil, but not necessarily of its age. In summary, Sanderman did not question the validity of our results but rather provides an alternative potential mechanistic explanation for the conclusion of our original article, that is, that paleoclimate explains a unique portion of the global variation of soil C content that cannot be accounted for by current climate, vegetation attributes, or soil properties.

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