Temperature effects on carbon storage are controlled by soil stabilisation capacities

Nat Commun. 2021 Nov 18;12(1):6713. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-27101-1.


Physical and chemical stabilisation mechanisms are now known to play a critical role in controlling carbon (C) storage in mineral soils, leading to suggestions that climate warming-induced C losses may be lower than previously predicted. By analysing > 9,000 soil profiles, here we show that, overall, C storage declines strongly with mean annual temperature. However, the reduction in C storage with temperature was more than three times greater in coarse-textured soils, with limited capacities for stabilising organic matter, than in fine-textured soils with greater stabilisation capacities. This pattern was observed independently in cool and warm regions, and after accounting for potentially confounding factors (plant productivity, precipitation, aridity, cation exchange capacity, and pH). The results could not, however, be represented by an established Earth system model (ESM). We conclude that warming will promote substantial soil C losses, but ESMs may not be predicting these losses accurately or which stocks are most vulnerable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't