Contrasting pH buffering patterns in neutral-alkaline soils along a 3600 km transect in northern China
Abstract. Soil pH buffering capacity (pHBC) plays a crucial role in predicting acidification rates, yet its large-scale patterns and controls are poorly understood, especially for neutral-alkaline soils. Here, we evaluated the spatial patterns and drivers of pHBC along a 3600 km long transect (1900 km sub-transect with carbonate-containing soils and 1700 km sub-transect with non-carbonate-containing soils) across northern China. Soil pHBC was greater in the carbonate-containing soils than in the non-carbonate-containing soils. Acid addition decreased soil pH in the non-carbonate-containing soils more markedly than in the carbonate-containing soils. Within the carbonate soil sub-transect, soil pHBC was positively correlated with cation exchange capacity (CEC), carbonate content and exchangeable sodium (Na) concentration, but negatively correlated with initial pH and clay content, and not correlated with soil organic carbon (SOC) content. Within the non-carbonate sub-transect, soil pHBC was positively related to initial pH, clay content, CEC and exchangeable Na concentration, but not related to SOC content. Carbonate content was the primary determinant of pHBC in the carbonate-containing soils and CEC was the main determinant of buffering capacity in the non-carbonate-containing soils. Along the transect, soil pHBC was different in regions with different aridity index. Soil pHBC was positively related to aridity index and carbonate content across the carbonate-containing soil sub-transect. Our results indicated that mechanisms controlling pHBC differ among neutral-alkaline soils of northern China, especially between carbonate- and non-carbonate-containing soils. This understanding should be incorporated into the acidification risk assessment and landscape management in a changing world.