The relative importance of decomposition and transport mechanisms in accounting for soil organic carbon profiles
Abstract. Soil is the major terrestrial reservoir of carbon and a substantial part of this carbon is stored in deep layers, typically deeper than 50 cm below the surface. Several studies underlined the quantitative importance of this deep soil organic carbon (SOC) pool and models are needed to better understand this stock and its evolution under climate and land-uses changes. In this study, we tested and compared three simple theoretical models of vertical transport for SOC against SOC profiles measurements from a long-term bare fallow experiment carried out by the Central-Chernozem State Natural Biosphere Reserve in the Kursk Region of Russia. The transport schemes tested are diffusion, advection and both diffusion and advection. They are coupled to three different formulations of soil carbon decomposition kinetics. The first formulation is a first order kinetics widely used in global SOC decomposition models; the second one, so-called "priming" model, links SOC decomposition rate to the amount of fresh organic matter, representing the substrate interactions. The last one is also a first order kinetics, but SOC is split into two pools. Field data are from a set of three bare fallow plots where soil received no input during the past 20, 26 and 58 yr, respectively. Parameters of the models were optimised using a Bayesian method. The best results are obtained when SOC decomposition is assumed to be controlled by fresh organic matter (i.e., the priming model). In comparison to the first-order kinetic model, the priming model reduces the overestimation in the deep layers. We also observed that the transport scheme that improved the fit with the data depended on the soil carbon mineralisation formulation chosen. When soil carbon decomposition was modelled to depend on the fresh organic matter amount, the transport mechanism which improved best the fit to the SOC profile data was the model representing both advection and diffusion. Interestingly, the older the bare fallow is, the lesser the need for diffusion is, suggesting that stabilised carbon may not be transported within the profile by the same mechanisms than more labile carbon.