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The significance of carbon-enriched dust for global carbon accounting


Correspondence: Nicholas P. Webb, tel. + 61 7 3735 3509, fax + 61 7 3735 7459, e-mail:


Soil carbon stores amount to 54% of the terrestrial carbon pool and twice the atmospheric carbon pool, but soil organic carbon (SOC) can be transient. There is an ongoing debate about whether soils are a net source or sink of carbon, and understanding the role of aeolian processes in SOC erosion, transport and deposition is rudimentary. The impacts of SOC erosion by wind on the global carbon budget, and its importance for carbon accounting remain largely unknown. Current understanding of SOC losses to wind erosion is based on the assumption that the SOC content of eroded material is the same as that of the parent soils. However, measured enrichment factors for the SOC content of Australian dusts relative to parent soils show that the SOC content of dusts can be up to seven times (by weight) larger than that of source-area soils, with enrichment factors ranging from 1.67 to 7.09. Assuming dust emissions from the continent of ~110 Mt yr−1, SOC dust emissions would be 0.13–4.65 Mt SOC yr−1 without enrichment but 0.94–7.77 Mt SOC yr−1 with enrichment; which represents an uncertainty of around 60%. Representing SOC enrichment within dust emission models will reduce uncertainty in estimates of the impact of wind erosion on SOC flux and provide an approach for the inclusion of wind erosion processes in carbon accounting systems.

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