Accounting for space and time in soil carbon dynamics in timbered rangelands
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Employing rangelands for climate change mitigation is hindered by conflicting reports on the direction and magnitude of change in soil organic carbon (Δ SOC) following changes in woody cover. Publications on woody thickening and deforestation, which had led to uncertainty in ΔSOC, were re-evaluated, and the dimensional-dependence of their data was determined. To model the fundamentals of SOC flux, linked SOC pools were simulated with first-order kinetics. Influences from forest development timelines and location of mature trees, with a potential for deep-set roots, were considered. We show that controversy or uncertainty has arisen when ΔSOC data were not measured along sufficient lengths of the three Cartesian axes and the time axis, i.e. in 4D. Thickening and deforestation experiments have particularly neglected factors affecting the time and depth axes, and sometimes neglected all four axes. Measurements of thickening must use time-spans beyond the calculable breakeven date – when thickening just recovers the SOC lost through land degradation: then all ecosystems are likely to incur net sequestration. The similarity between half-life of carbon pools, and the half-time required for sequestration, mandates that millennial time-spans must be considered in design of SOC experiments. Spatial and temporal averaging of ΔSOC data that accounted for environmentally dependent decomposition rates, revealed that deforestation to pasture incurred a higher and longer-term net emission than earlier reported. Published reports on thickening or deforestation appear no longer contradictory when one considers that they only presented views from lengths of the 4D axes that were too limited. Adoption of this understanding into carbon accounting will allow more precise estimates of carbon fluxes for emission trading schemes and national reports.
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