Convergent modelling of past soil organic carbon stocks but divergent projections
- 1CSIRO Agriculture Flagship, GPO Box 1666, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
- 2CSIRO Land and Water Flagship, GPO Box 1666, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
- 3CSIRO Agriculture Flagship, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia
- 4Institute of Forestry and Climate Change Research, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083, China
- 5CSIRO Digital Productivity & Services Flagship, Private Bag 5, Wembley, WA 6913, Australia
Abstract. Soil carbon (C) models are important tools for understanding soil C balance and projecting C stocks in terrestrial ecosystems, particularly under global change. The initialization and/or parameterization of soil C models can vary among studies even when the same model and data set are used, causing potential uncertainties in projections. Although a few studies have assessed such uncertainties, it is yet unclear what these uncertainties are correlated with and how they change across varying environmental and management conditions. Here, applying a process-based biogeochemical model to 90 individual field experiments (ranging from 5 to 82 years of experimental duration) across the Australian cereal-growing regions, we demonstrated that well-designed optimization procedures enabled the model to accurately simulate changes in measured C stocks, but did not guarantee convergent forward projections (100 years). Major causes of the projection uncertainty were due to insufficient understanding of how microbial processes and soil C pool change to modulate C turnover. For a given site, the uncertainty significantly increased with the magnitude of future C input and years of the projection. Across sites, the uncertainty correlated positively with temperature but negatively with rainfall. On average, a 331 % uncertainty in projected C sequestration ability can be inferred in Australian agricultural soils. This uncertainty would increase further if projections were made for future warming and drying conditions. Future improvement in soil C modelling should focus on how the microbial community and its C use efficiency change in response to environmental changes, and better conceptualization of heterogeneous soil C pools and the C transformation among those pools.