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

BER Research Highlights

Soil Warming, Carbon-Nitrogen Interactions, and Forest Carbon Budgets
Published: June 07, 2011
Posted: July 15, 2011

Soil warming has the potential to alter both soil and plant processes that affect carbon (C) storage in forest ecosystems. DOE-supported scientists have quantified these effects in a large, long-term (7-year) soil-warming study in a deciduous forest in New England. Soil warming has resulted in C losses from the soil and stimulated C gains in the woody tissue of trees. The warming-enhanced decay of soil organic matter also released enough additional inorganic nitrogen (N) into the soil solution to support the observed increases in plant C storage. Although soil warming has resulted in a cumulative net loss of C, the annual net losses generally decreased over time as plant C storage increased. In the seventh year, warming-induced soil C losses were almost totally compensated for by plant C gains. The research team attributes plant gains primarily to warming-induced increases in N availability. This study underscores the importance of incorporating C–N interactions in atmosphere–ocean–land earth system models to accurately simulate land feedbacks to the climate system.

References: Melillo, J. M., S. Butler, J. Johnson, J. Mohan, P. Steudler, H. Lux, E. Burrows, F. Bowles, R. Smith, L. Scott, C. Vario, T. Hill, A. Burton, Y. M. Zhou, and J. Tang. 2011. "Soil Warming, Carbon-Nitrogen Interactions, and Forest Carbon Budgets," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, 9508–9512.

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
  • Research Area: Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE)

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


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