Research ArticleGEOCHEMISTRY

Five years of whole-soil warming led to loss of subsoil carbon stocks and increased CO2 efflux

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Science Advances  21 May 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 21, eabd1343
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd1343


Subsoils below 20 cm are an important reservoir in the global carbon cycle, but little is known about their vulnerability under climate change. We measured a statistically significant loss of subsoil carbon (−33 ± 11%) in warmed plots of a conifer forest after 4.5 years of whole-soil warming (4°C). The loss of subsoil carbon was primarily from unprotected particulate organic matter. Warming also stimulated a sustained 30 ± 4% increase in soil CO2 efflux due to increased CO2 production through the whole-soil profile. The observed in situ decline in subsoil carbon stocks with warming is now definitive evidence of a positive soil carbon-climate feedback, which could not be concluded based on increases in CO2 effluxes alone. The high sensitivity of subsoil carbon and the different responses of soil organic matter pools suggest that models must represent these heterogeneous soil dynamics to accurately predict future feedbacks to warming.

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