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Keywords:

  • acclimation;
  • carbon sink;
  • carbon source;
  • CENTURY ;
  • clear-cutting;
  • climate change;
  • Hubbard Brook;
  • northern hardwood forest;
  • RothC;
  • soil organic carbon

Abstract

Carbon (C) sequestration in forest biomass and soils may help decrease regional C footprints and mitigate future climate change. The efficacy of these practices must be verified by monitoring and by approved calculation methods (i.e., models) to be credible in C markets. Two widely used soil organic matter models – CENTURY and RothC – were used to project changes in SOC pools after clear-cutting disturbance, as well as under a range of future climate and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) scenarios. Data from the temperate, predominantly deciduous Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) in New Hampshire, USA, were used to parameterize and validate the models. Clear-cutting simulations demonstrated that both models can effectively simulate soil C dynamics in the northern hardwood forest when adequately parameterized. The minimum postharvest SOC predicted by RothC occurred in postharvest year 14 and was within 1.5% of the observed minimum, which occurred in year 8. CENTURY predicted the postharvest minimum SOC to occur in year 45, at a value 6.9% greater than the observed minimum; the slow response of both models to disturbance suggests that they may overestimate the time required to reach new steady-state conditions. Four climate change scenarios were used to simulate future changes in SOC pools. Climate-change simulations predicted increases in SOC by as much as 7% at the end of this century, partially offsetting future CO2 emissions. This sequestration was the product of enhanced forest productivity, and associated litter input to the soil, due to increased temperature, precipitation and CO2. The simulations also suggested that considerable losses of SOC (8–30%) could occur if forest vegetation at HBEF does not respond to changes in climate and CO2 levels. Therefore, the source/sink behavior of temperate forest soils likely depends on the degree to which forest growth is stimulated by new climate and CO2 conditions.