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BER Research Highlights

Soil Carbon Cycle Confidence and Uncertainty
Published: November 27, 2017
Posted: January 23, 2018

Developing a testbed for global soil carbon modeling.

The Science  
Soils represent the largest terrestrial carbon pool on Earth. Yet, emerging theories regarding stabilization of soil organic matter remain poorly represented in global-scale models; thus, underestimating the true uncertainty associated with potential terrestrial carbon cycle–climate feedbacks.

The Impact
This work builds the capacity to test emerging ecological theories in global-scale models, informs future research needs, and affords avenues to test soil biogeochemical theory, refine model features, and accelerate advancements across scientific disciplines.

Models presented in this work are some of the first to begin explicitly considering biotic activity in global-scale biogeochemical models. By forcing them under a common land model, these results are some of the first to begin quantifying the uncertainty associated with potential soil carbon responses to changes in plant productivity, temperature, and moisture and global scales. Notably, the models made divergent projections about the fate of these soil carbon stocks over the 20th century, with models either gaining or losing over 20 petagrams of carbon (Pg C) globally between 1901 and 2010.

BER Program Manager
Daniel Stover
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science, SC-23.1 (301-903-0289)

Principal Investigator
Will Wieder
University of Colorado, Boulder
Denver, CO 80203

This work was supported by the Officer of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, under award numbers: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) DE-SC0014374, BSS DE-SC0016364, and Environmental Research RUBISCO SFA. Other support was from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 2015-67003- 23485, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NA14OAR4320106, and U.S. Department of Commerce.

Wieder, W.R. et al. "Carbon cycle confidence and uncertainty: Exploring variation among soil biogeochemical models." Global Change Biology 24(4), 1563–1579 (2017). [DOI:10.1111/gcb.13979]

Related Links
Source code is available at

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


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