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Field Measurements Confirm Importance of Litter and Soil Carbon in U.S. Forests

Photo of Predictions of soil organic carbon stocks (0-100 cm) for all Forest Inventory and Analysis plots in the conterminous United States.  U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Predictions of soil organic carbon stocks (0-100 cm) for all Forest Inventory and Analysis plots in the conterminous United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Field measurements of litter and soil attributes in the Forest Inventory and Analysis program were used, for the first time, to develop predictions of litter and soil carbon (C) stocks and stock changes in U.S. forests. This work resulted in substantial increases in the contribution of the soil organic carbon (SOC) pool, from approximately 44 percent of the total forest ecosystem C stocks to 71 percent, in the forest C budget of the United States.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Domke, Grant M. 
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1163

Summary

Forest ecosystems are the largest terrestrial carbon sink on Earth, with more than half of their net primary production moving to the soil via the decomposition of litter biomass. The Forest Inventory and Analysis program within the Forest Service has been consistently measuring litter and soil attributes on permanent sample plots across all forest land and ownerships as part of the national forest inventory since 2001. Those data recently have been harmonized with auxiliary soils, climate, and geospatial data to develop models for predicting litter and soil carbon stocks on forest land in the United States for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reporting. This work resulted in an estimated 44 percent reduction in litter carbon stocks and an estimated 40 percent increase in soil carbon stocks relative to previous estimates in UNFCCC reporting. More broadly, this work suggests that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defaults and country-specific models used to estimate litter and soil carbon in temperate forest ecosystems may not well represent the contribution of these pools in national carbon budgets.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota

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