Boreal soils are important to the global C cycle owing to large C stocks, repeated disturbance from fire, and the potential for permafrost thaw to expose previously stable, buried C. To evaluate the primary mechanisms responsible for both short- and long-term C accumulation in boreal soils, we developed a multi-isotope (12,14C) Soil C model with dynamic soil layers that develop through time as soil organic matter burns and reaccumulates. We then evaluated the mechanisms that control organic matter turnover in boreal regions including carbon input rates, substrate recalcitrance, soil moisture and temperature, and the presence of historical permafrost to assess the importance of these factors in boreal C accumulation. Results indicate that total C accumulation is controlled by the rate of carbon input, decomposition rates, and the presence of historical permafrost. However, unlike more temperate ecosystems, one of the key mechanisms involved in C preservation in boreal soils examined here is the cooling of subsurface soil layers as soil depth increases rather than increasing recalcitrance in subsurface soils. The propagation of the 14C bomb spike into soils also illustrates the importance of historical permafrost and twentieth century warming in contemporary boreal soil respiration fluxes. Both 14C and total C simulation data also strongly suggest that boreal SOM need not be recalcitrant to accumulate; the strong role of soil temperature controls on boreal C accumulation at our modeling test site in Manitoba, Canada, indicates that carbon in the deep organic soil horizons is probably relatively labile and thus subject to perturbations that result from changing climatic conditions in the future. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.
Additional Publication Details
Modeling physical and biogeochemical controls over carbon accumulation in a boreal forest soil