Uncertainties and novel prospects in the study of the soil carbon dynamics

TitleUncertainties and novel prospects in the study of the soil carbon dynamics
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsWang, Y, Hsieh, YP
Date PublishedDec
ISBN Number0045-6535 (Print)0045-6535 (Linking)
KeywordsCarbon Dioxide/chemistry/metabolism, Carbon Radioisotopes/analysis, Carbon/*chemistry/metabolism, Ecosystem, Kinetics, Models, Chemical, Plants/metabolism, Seasons, Soil/*analysis

Establishment of the Kyoto Protocol has resulted in an effort to look towards living biomass and soils for carbon sequestration. In order for carbon credits to be meaningful, sustained carbon sequestration for decades or longer is required. It has been speculated that improved land management could result in sequestration of a substantial amount of carbon in soils within several decades and therefore can be an important option in reducing atmospheric CO2 concentration. However, evaluation of soil carbon sources and sinks is difficult because the dynamics of soil carbon storage and release is complex and still not well understood. There has been rapid development of quantitative techniques over the past two decades for measuring the component fluxes of the global carbon cycle and for studying the soil carbon cycle. Most significant development in the soil carbon cycle study is the application of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) in radiocarbon measurements. This has made it possible to unravel rates of carbon cycling in soils, by studying natural levels of radiocarbon in soil organic matter and soil CO2. Despite the advances in the study of the soil carbon cycle in the recent decades, tremendous uncertainties exist in the sizes and turnover times of soil carbon pools. The uncertainties result from lack of standard methods and incomplete understanding of soil organic carbon dynamics, compounded by natural variability in soil carbon and carbon isotopic content even within the same ecosystem. Many fundamental questions concerning the dynamics of the soil carbon cycle have yet to be answered. This paper reviews and synthesizes the isotopic approaches to the study of the soil carbon cycle. We will focus on uncertainties and limitations associated with these approaches and point out areas where more research is needed to improve our understanding of this important component of the global carbon cycle.