In order to quantify the historical changes in carbon storage that result from agricultural conversion, this study compared the carbon dynamics of two sites in the loess region of Iowa: a native prairie and a cropland. Field data were obtained to determine present-day carbon storage and its variability within a landscape (a stable ridgetop vs. eroding upper-midslope vs. depositional lower slope). Models were used to recreate the historical carbon budget of these sites and determine the cropland's potential to be a net CO2 source or sink, relative to the atmosphere. Regardless of slope position, the cropland site contains approximately half the amount of carbon as prairie. Variability in soil carbon storage within a site as a consequence of slope position is as large or larger (variations of 200-300%) than temporal variation (???200% at all slope positions). The most extreme difference in soil carbon storage between the cropland and prairie sites is found in the soil at the upper-midslope, which is the area of greatest erosion. The models estimate that 93-172% of the carbon in the original topsoil has been lost from the cropland's eroding midslope. Much of this carbon is derived from deeper soil horizons. Either a small sink or strong source of carbon to the atmosphere is created, depending on the fate of the eroded sediment and its associated carbon.
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Carbon dynamics within agricultural and native sites in the loess region of Western lowa