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Unexpected High Carbon Fluxes from the Deep Unsaturated Zone in a Semi-Arid Region
Published: September 04, 2018
Posted: March 22, 2019

September 4, 2018

ESM land models need to incorporate deeper soil processes to improve CO2 flux predictions.

The Science
Understanding of terrestrial carbon cycling has relied primarily on studies of top soils that are typically characterized to depths shallower than 0.5 m. The researchers found and quantified 30% of carbon dioxide CO2) annual efflux to atmosphere (60% in winter) originates from below 1 m, contrary to prediction of <1% by the Earth System model (ESM) land models.

The Impact
The team contends that ESM land models need to incorporate these deeper soil processes to improve CO2 flux predictions in semi-arid climate regions.

Summary
Understanding of terrestrial carbon cycling has relied primarily on studies of topsoils that are typically characterized to depths shallower than 0.5 m. At a semi-arid site, instrumented down to 7 m, the researchers measured seasonal- and depth-resolved carbon inventories and fluxes, and groundwater and unsaturated zone flow rates. The researchers identified an unexpected high dissolved organic carbon (DOC) flux from the rhizosphere into the underlying unsaturated zone. Their measurements showed that ~30% of the CO2 efflux to atmosphere (60% in winter) originates from below 1 m, contrary to prediction of <1% by ESM land models. The seasonal DOC influx and favorable temperatures, moisture, and oxygen availability in deeper unsaturated zone sustained the respirations of deeper microbial communities and roots. These conditions are common characteristics of many subsurface environments; thus the team contends that ESM land models need to incorporate these deeper soil processes to improve CO2 flux predictions in semi-arid climate regions.

Contacts
BER Program Manager
David Lesmes, SC-23.1
david.lesmes@science.doe.gov

Principal Investigator
Jiamin Wan, LBNL
jwan@lbl.gov,

Funding
The project receives support from the Subsurface Biogeochemical Research program of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, under contract DE-AC02- 05CH11231.

Publications
Wan, J., Tokunaga, T.K., Dong, W., Williams, K.H., Kim, Y., Conrad, M.E., Bill, M., Riley, W.J., Susan S.H. "Deep unsaturated zone contributions to carbon cycling in semiarid environments." Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences 123(9), 3045–54 (2018). [DOI:10.1029/2018JG004669].

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Subsurface Biogeochemical Research
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

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

 

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