The stocks of soil organic carbon (SOC) on the landscape are an important element in the global carbon cycle. Changes in soil carbon can change the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. If carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, captured through photosynthesis, is ultimately stored in the soil to an enhanced degree, the resulting soil carbon sequestration may help delay some of the undesirable consequences of global warming. If the conditions affecting the balance of photosynthesis and decomposition are changed to favor decomposition, then soil carbon can be released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, contributing to greenhouse warming.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the largest land management agency in the United States, with jurisdiction influencing more than 2 million square kilometers of land--about 22 percent of the total land area of the country. Estimates using available data indicate that the DOI lands have nearly 18 petagrams (Pg; 1 Pg = 1015 g = 1 gigaton) of SOC, which is about 22 percent of the estimate for the country (81 Pg). The distribution is not uniform, and few areas of DOI lands reflect 'average' conditions. Large areas of land with low biological productivity occur in the conterminous U.S. part of the DOI lands, and substantial areas with high SOC occur in Alaska. About 74 percent of the SOC on DOI lands is in Alaska. Details on amounts of SOC by DOI Bureau and location are shown in a series of tables and maps. For the conterminous United States, statistics are given by land cover type and soil depth ranges.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Soil Organic Carbon on Lands of the Department of the Interior