Articles | Volume 7, issue 12
07 Dec 2010
 | 07 Dec 2010

The effect of soil redistribution on soil organic carbon: an experimental study

H. Van Hemelryck, P. Fiener, K. Van Oost, G. Govers, and R. Merckx

Abstract. Soil erosion, transport and deposition by water drastically affect the distribution of soil organic carbon (SOC) within a landscape. Furthermore, soil redistribution is assumed to have a large impact on the exchange of carbon (C) between the pedosphere and the atmosphere. There is, however, significant scientific disagreement concerning the relative importance of the key-mechanisms at play. One of the major uncertainties concerns the fraction of SOC that is mineralized when soil is eroded by water, from the moment when detachment takes place until the moment when the SOC becomes protected by burial. In this study, the changes in C-exchange between soil and atmosphere as affected by soil redistribution processes were experimentally quantified. During a laboratory experiment, three types of erosional events were simulated, each of which was designed to produce a different amount of eroded soil material with a different degree of aggregation. During a 98-day period, CO2-efflux was measured in-situ and under field conditions on undisturbed soils with a layer of deposited soil material. Depending on the initial conditions of the soil and the intensity of the erosion process, a significant fraction of eroded SOC was mineralized after deposition. However, results also suggest that deposition produces a dense stratified layer of sediment that caps the soil surface, leading to a decrease in SOC decomposition in deeper soil layers. As a result, the net effect of erosion on SOC can be smaller, depending on the functioning of the whole soil system. In this study, soil redistribution processes contributed an additional emission of 2 to 12% of total C contained in eroded sediment.

Final-revised paper