Depleted soil carbon and nitrogen pools beneath impervious surfaces

Environ Pollut. 2012 May:164:248-51. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2012.01.046. Epub 2012 Feb 28.


Urban soils and vegetation contain large pools of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) and may sequester these elements at considerable rates; however, there have been no systematic studies of the composition of soils beneath the impervious surfaces that dominate urban areas. This has made it impossible to reliably estimate the net impact of urbanization on terrestrial C and N pools. In this study, we compared open area and impervious-covered soils in New York City and found that the C and N content of the soil (0-15 cm) under impervious surfaces was 66% and 95% lower, respectively. Analysis of extracellular enzyme activities in the soils suggests that recalcitrant compounds dominate the organic matter pool under impervious surfaces. If the differences between impervious-covered and open area soils represent a loss of C and N from urban ecosystems, the magnitude of these losses could offset sequestration in other parts of the urban landscape.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Cities
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • New York City
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Nitrogen Cycle
  • Soil / chemistry*
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Surface Properties
  • Urbanization


  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen