Reconciling the paradox of soil organic carbon erosion by water

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The acceleration of erosion, transport, and burial of soil organic carbon (OC) by water in response to agricultural expansion represents a significant perturbation of the terrestrial C cycle. Recent model advances now enable improved representation of the relationships between sedimentary processes and OC cycling, and this has led to substantially revised assessments of changes in land OC as a result of land cover and climate change. However, surprisingly a consensus on both the direction and magnitude of the erosion-induced land-atmosphere OC exchange is still lacking. Here, we show that the apparent soil OC erosion paradox, i.e., whether agricultural erosion results in an OC sink or source, can be reconciled when comprehensively considering the range of temporal and spatial scales at which erosional effects on the C cycle operate. We developed a framework that describes erosion-induced OC sink and source terms across scales. We conclude that erosion induces a source for atmospheric CO2 when considering only small temporal and spatial scales, while both sinks and sources appear when multi-scaled approaches are used. We emphasize the need for erosion control for the benefits it brings for the delivery of ecosystem services, but cross-scale approaches are essential to accurately represent erosion effects on the global C cycle.




Van Oost, K., & Six, J. (2023). Reconciling the paradox of soil organic carbon erosion by water. Biogeosciences, 20(3), 635–646.

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