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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 5, issue 1
Earth Syst. Dynam., 5, 211–221, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Earth Syst. Dynam., 5, 211–221, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 02 Jun 2014

Research article | 02 Jun 2014

The sensitivity of carbon turnover in the Community Land Model to modified assumptions about soil processes

B. Foereid1,*, D. S. Ward2, N. Mahowald2, E. Paterson3, and J. Lehmann1 B. Foereid et al.
  • 1Cornell University, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Ithaca, New York, USA
  • 2Cornell University, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Ithaca, New York, USA
  • 3The James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, UK
  • *now at: University of Abertay Dundee, SIMBIOS, Dundee, UK

Abstract. Soil organic matter (SOM) is the largest store of organic carbon (C) in the biosphere, but the turnover of SOM is still incompletely understood and not well described in global C cycle models. Here we use the Community Land Model (CLM) and compare the output for soil organic C stocks (SOC) to estimates from a global data set. We also modify the assumptions about SOC turnover in two ways: (1) we assume distinct temperature sensitivities of SOC pools with different turnover time and (2) we assume a priming effect, such that the decomposition rate of native SOC increases in response to a supply of fresh organic matter. The standard model predicted the global distribution of SOC reasonably well in most areas, but it failed to predict the very high stocks of SOC at high latitudes. It also predicted too much SOC in areas with high plant productivity, such as tropical rainforests and some midlatitude areas. Total SOC at equilibrium was reduced by a small amount (<1% globally) when we assume that the temperature sensitivity of SOC decomposition is dependent on the turnover rate of the component pools. Including a priming effect reduced total global SOC more (6.6% globally) and led to decreased SOC in areas with high plant input (tropical and temperate forests), which were also the areas where the unmodified model overpredicted SOC (by about 40%). The model was then run with climate change prediction until 2100 for the standard and modified versions. Future simulations showed that differences between the standard and modified versions were maintained in a future with climate change (4–6 and 23–47 Pg difference in soil carbon between standard simulation and the modified simulation with temperature sensitivity and priming respectively). Although the relative changes are small, they are likely to be larger in a fully coupled simulation, and thus warrant future work.

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