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

Searchable Research Highlights

Observational Needs for Estimating Alaskan Soil Carbon Stocks Under Current and Future Climate
Published: February 21, 2017
Posted: April 21, 2017

Distribution of optimized sample locations for characterizing whole-profile soil organic carbon stocks across Alaska under present climate at a confidence interval of 5 kg C m-2. Green triangles show the locations where new observations are needed and red dots show recommended sites represented by existing observations. [Image reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) from Vitharana, U.W.A., et al. 2017. “Observational Needs for Estimating Alaskan Soil Carbon Stocks Under Current and Future Climate,” Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, DOI: 10.1002/2016JG003421. Copyright 2017 Vitharana, Mishra, Jastrow, Matamala, and Fan]

A geospatial analysis optimized the distribution of observation locations needed for reducing uncertainties in soil carbon stock estimates.

The Science 
Researchers used a geospatial approach that integrates existing observations with the multivariate spatial heterogeneity of soil-forming factors. The approach was developed to identify the optimal number and spatial distribution of observation sites needed to improve estimates of soil organic carbon stocks under current and projected future climatic conditions.

The Impact
The magnitude, vulnerability, and spatial distribution of soil carbon stocks are major sources of uncertainty in projected carbon-climate feedbacks attributed to the permafrost region. Study results provide a spatially optimized set of locations designed to guide new field observations for constraining the uncertainties in soil carbon estimates and providing robust spatial benchmarks for Earth system model results.

Representing land surface spatial heterogeneity is a scientific challenge that is critical for designing observation schemes to reliably estimate soil properties. Researchers led by Argonne National Laboratory developed a geospatial approach to identify an optimum distribution of observation sites for improving the characterization of soil organic carbon stocks across Alaska. By using environmental data expected to influence soil formation as proxies for representing the spatial distribution of soil organic carbon stocks, the scientists determined that complementing data from existing samples with 484 new observation sites would be needed to characterize average whole-profile soil organic carbon stocks across Alaska at a confidence interval of 5 kg C m-2. Estimates to depths of 0 m to 1 m and 0 m to 2 m with the same level of confidence would require 309 and 446 new observation sites, respectively. New observation needs are greater for scrub (mostly tundra) than forest land cover types, and ecoregions in southwestern Alaska are among the most under-sampled. The number and locations of required observations are not greatly altered by changes in climatic variables through 2100 as projected by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emission scenarios. Study results serve as a guide for future sampling efforts to reduce existing uncertainty in soil organic carbon observations and improve benchmarks for Earth system model results.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289)

(PI Contact)
Julie D. Jastrow
Argonne National Laboratory
jdjastrow@anl.gov (630-252-3226)

(Corresponding Author Contact)
Umakant Mishra
Argonne National Laboratory
umishra@anl.gov (630-252-1108)

This study was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program under contract DE-AC02-06CH11357 to Argonne National Laboratory.

U. W. A. Vitharana, U. Mishra, J. D. Jastrow, R. Matamala, and Z. Fan, “Observational needs for estimating Alaskan soil carbon stocks under current and future climate.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences (2017). [DOI:10.1002/2016JG003421] (Reference link)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Biosequestration
  • Research Area: Climate and Earth System Modeling
  • Mission Science: Climate

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

Feb 22, 2018
Soil Microbiome in Arctic Polygonal Tundra Unlocked
Landscape topography structures the soil microbiome in Arctic polygonal tundra. The Sc [more...]

Feb 16, 2018
A Challenging Future for Tropical Forests
Mortality rates of moist tropical forests are on the rise due to environmental drivers and relate [more...]

Feb 06, 2018
Ice Formed by Contact Freezing: Pressure Matters, Not Just Temperature
Laboratory measurements show that distortion of water droplet surface may increase the likelihood [more...]

Jan 27, 2018
Clarifying Rates of Methylmercury Production
New model provides more accurate rate constant estimates for mercury methylation and demethylatio [more...]

Jan 26, 2018
More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities
Combined experimental and modeling approach contributes to understanding the structure of cell me [more...]