Erosion, deposition, and the persistence of soil organic matter: mechanistic considerations and problems with terminology


Correspondence to: Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, School of Natural Sciences, University of California Merced, 4225 N Hospital Rd, Atwater, CA 95301, USA. E-mail:


The effect of erosional detachment, transport, and deposition of topsoil on the stock of soil organic matter (SOM) and its association with soil minerals has been a focus of a growing number of studies. A particularly lively debate is currently centered on the questions of whether terrestrial sedimentation of previously eroded SOM may constitute a relevant sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and how ‘stable’ such carbon (C) might be on multidecadal timescales. In this commentary, we illustrate how redistribution of eroded SOM within a landscape can create situations that are not adequately described by the jargon commonly used to characterize C turnover dynamics. We argue that more quantitative and scientifically rigorous categories are needed to describe soil C turnover and to promote the development of innovative, numerical models of C dynamics in landscapes characterized by significant mass movement. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.