Buried soils contain large reservoirs of organic carbon at depths that are not typically included in regional and global soil carbon inventories(1). One such palaeosol, the Brady soil of southwestern Nebraska, USA, is buried under six metres of loess. The Brady soil developed at the land surface on the late-Pleistocene-aged Peoria Loess in a period of warmth and wetness during which dunefields and dust sources across the region were stabilized(2,3). Abrupt climate change in the early Holocene led to increased loess deposition that buried the soil(4). Here, we used spectroscopic and isotopic analyses to determine the composition and stability of organic carbon in the Brady soil. We identify high levels of black carbon, indicating extensive biomass burning. In addition, we found intact vascular plant lipids in soil organic matter with radiocarbon ages ranging from10,500 to 12,400 cal yr BP, indicating decomposition was slowed by rapid burial at the start of the Holocene. We conclude that landscape disturbance caused by abrupt climate change, fire and the loss of vegetative cover contributed to deep carbon sequestration as the soil was quickly buried under accumulating loess. We suggest that terrestrial soil carbon storage in arid and semi-arid environments could undergo landscape-scale shifts in response to rising temperatures, increased fire activity or drought.
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