Uncertainty in estimating land use and management impacts on soil organic carbon storage for US agricultural lands between 1982 and 1997


Stephen M. Ogle, fax +970-491-1965, e-mail: ogle@nrel.colostate.edu


Uncertainty was quantified for an inventory estimating change in soil organic carbon (SOC) storage resulting from modifications in land use and management across US agricultural lands between 1982 and 1997. This inventory was conducted using a modified version of a carbon (C) accounting method developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Probability density functions (PDFs) were derived for each input to the IPCC model, including reference SOC stocks, land use/management activity data, and management factors. Change in C storage was estimated using a Monte-Carlo approach with 50 000 iterations, by randomly selecting values from the PDFs after accounting for dependencies in the model inputs. Over the inventory period, mineral soils had a net gain of 10.8 Tg C yr−1, with a 95% confidence interval ranging from 6.5 to 15.3 Tg C yr−1. Most of this gain was due to setting-aside lands in the Conservation Reserve Program. In contrast, managed organic soils lost 9.4 Tg C yr−1, with a 95% confidence interval ranging from 6.4 to 13.3 Tg C yr−1. Combining these gains and losses in SOC, US agricultural soils accrued 1.3 Tg C yr−1 due to land use and management change, with a 95% confidence interval ranging from a loss of 4.4 Tg C yr−1 to a gain of 6.9 Tg C yr−1. Most of the uncertainty was attributed to management factors for tillage, land use change between cultivated and uncultivated conditions, and C loss rates from managed organic soils. Based on the uncertainty, we are not able to conclude with 95% confidence that change in US agricultural land use and management between 1982 and 1997 created a net C sink for atmospheric CO2.