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Soil carbon saturation: Linking concept and measurable carbon pools

Stewart, C.E., Plante, A.F., Paustian, K., Conant, R.T., Six, J.
2 008
Soil Science Society of America Journal
The soil C saturation concept suggests a limit to whole soil organic carbon (SOC) accumulation determined by inherent physicochemical characteristics of four soil C pools: unprotected, physically protected, chemically protected, and biochemically protected. Previous attempts to quantify soil C sequestration capacity have focused primarily on silt and clay protection and largely ignored the effects of soil structural protection and biochemical protection. We assessed two contrasting models of SOC accumulation, one with no saturation limit (i.e., linear first-order model) and one with an explicit soil C saturation limit (i.e., C saturation model). We isolated soil fractions corresponding to the C pools (i.e., free particulate organic matter [POM], microaggregate-associated C, silt- and clay-associated C, and non-hydrolyzable C) from eight long-term agroecosystern experiments across the United States and Canada. Due to the composite nature of the physically protected C pool, we firactioned it into mineral- vs. POM-associated C. Within each site, the number of fractions fitting the C saturation model was directly related to maximum SOC content, suggesting that a broad range in SOC content is necessary to evaluate fraction C saturation. The two sites with the greatest SOC range showed C saturation behavior in the chemically, biochemically, and some mineral-associated fractions of the physically protected pool. The unprotected pool and the aggregate-protected POM showed linear, nonsaturating behavior. Evidence of C saturation of chemically and biochemically protected SOC pools was observed at sites far from their theoretical C saturation level, while saturation of aggregate-protected fractions occurred in soils closer to their C saturation level.
EES Authors: 
Alain F. Plante

Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316