U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


Persistence of Soil Organic Matter: It Takes an Ecosystem
Published: October 06, 2011
Posted: November 02, 2011

Globally, soil organic matter (SOM) contains more than three times as much carbon as either the atmosphere or terrestrial vegetation. However, whereas some SOM persists for millennia, other SOM decomposes readily, according to phenomena that we currently do not understand. This limits our ability to predict how soils will respond to climate change. DOE scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have recently demonstrated that SOM molecular structure alone does not control SOM stability; in fact, environmental and biological controls predominate, such as interdependence of compound chemistry, reactive mineral surfaces, climate, water availability, soil acidity, soil redox state, and the presence of potential degraders in the immediate environment. In other words, the persistence of soil organic carbon is primarily not a molecular property, but an ecosystem property. The authors also propose ways to include this understanding in a new generation of experiments and soil carbon models that will improve predictions of the SOM response to global warming.

Reference: Schmidt, M. W. I., M. S. Torn, S. Abiven, T. Dittmar, G. Guggenberger, I. A. Janssens, M. Kleber, I. Kogel-Knabner, J. Lehmann, D. A. C. Manning, O. Nannipieri, D. P. Rasse, S. Weiner, and S. E. Trumbore. 2011. "Persistence of Soil Organic Matter as an Ecosystem Property," Nature 478, 49-56. (DOI: 10.1038/nature10386) (Reference link)

Contact: Mike Kuperberg, SC-23.1, (301) 903-3281, Daniel Stover, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0289
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)