A mass balance approach to assess carbon dioxide evolution during erosional events



The accelerated greenhouse effect and the degradation of land resources by water and wind erosion are two major, yet interrelated global environmental challenges. Accelerated decomposition of soil organic carbon (SOC) in cultivated soils results in decline in SOC stocks over time and also contributes to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Off-site transport of SOC in runoff waters during erosional events also contributes to SOC depletion, but there is a paucity of data in the literature documenting erosional SOC losses and the fate of eroded SOC. In this paper, we present a mass balance approach to compute CO2 evolved from mineralization of SOC during transport and deposition of eroded soils. Erosion-induced CO2 emission rates ranging between 6 and 52 g C m−2 yr−1 were computed using data on SOC stocks and dynamics from a series of long-term experiments conducted across a range of ecological regions. For the cropland of the world, we estimated an annual flux of 0.37 Pg CO2-C to the atmosphere due to water erosion. This flux is significant and suggests that water erosion must be taken into consideration when constructing global and regional C budgets. Through its contribution to atmospheric CO2 increase, water erosion can have a positive feedback on the accelerated greenhouse effect. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.