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

BER Research Highlights

Forest Soil Carbon Lost at a Greater Rate in Warmer Climates
Published: November 02, 2011
Posted: February 24, 2012

Understanding and predicting the impacts of climate change and the stability of carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems is an important part of planning future energy strategies. This Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led study compared the turnover time of labile soil carbon, in relation to temperature and soil texture, in several forest ecosystems that are representative of large areas of North America. Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stocks and C:N ratios were measured in the forest floor, mineral soil, and two mineral soil fractions (particulate and mineral-associated organic matter) at five AmeriFlux sites (a network that provides continuous observations of ecosystem-level exchanges of CO2, water, and energy across the Americas) along a latitudinal gradient in the eastern United States. With one exception, forest floor and mineral soil carbon stocks increased from warm, southern sites (with fine-textured soils) to cool, northern sites (with more coarse-textured soils). The exception was a northern site, with less than 10% silt-clay content, that had a soil organic carbon stock similar to the southern sites. Moving from south to north, the turnover time of labile soil organic C increased from approximately 5 to 14 years. Consistent with its role in stabilization of soil organic carbon, silt-clay content was positively correlated with stable C at each site. Latitudinal differences in the storage and turnover of soil C were related to mean annual temperature, but soil texture superseded temperature when there was too little silt and clay to stabilize labile soil C and protect it from decomposition. Overall, this study suggests that large labile pools of forest soil C are at risk of decomposition in a warming climate, especially in coarse textured forest soils.

Reference: Garten, C. T., Jr. 2011. "Comparison of Forest Soil Carbon Dynamics at Five Sites along a Latitudinal Gradient," Geoderma 167-168, 30-40, DOI: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2011.08.007. (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)