The whole-soil carbon flux in response to warming

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Science  31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6332, pp. 1420-1423
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal1319

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Digging deeper into soils

Soils contain about twice as much carbon as Earth's atmosphere, so their response to warming is crucial to understanding carbon fluxes in a changing climate. Past studies have heated soil to a depth of 5 to 20 cm to examine such fluxes. Hicks Pries et al. heated the ground to a depth of 100 cm. Extending measurements to that depth revealed that 4°C of warming increased annual soil respiration by 34 to 37%—a considerable amount more than previously observed.

Science, this issue p. 1420


Soil organic carbon harbors three times as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere, and its decomposition is a potentially large climate change feedback and major source of uncertainty in climate projections. The response of whole-soil profiles to warming has not been tested in situ. In a deep warming experiment in mineral soil, we found that CO2 production from all soil depths increased with 4°C warming; annual soil respiration increased by 34 to 37%. All depths responded to warming with similar temperature sensitivities, driven by decomposition of decadal-aged carbon. Whole-soil warming reveals a larger soil respiration response than many in situ experiments (most of which only warm the surface soil) and models.

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