1CNRS, Laboratoire de Biogéochimie des Milieux Continentaux, Centre INRA Versailles-Grignon, Bâtiment EGER, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
2SBEEH/IRD, Rabie Sanders Building, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Scootsville, 3209, South Africa
3Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, CEA Orme des Merisiers, Gif sur Yvette, France
4UEFE, INRA Lusignan, France
5SSLCC/NAFRI, Vientiane, LAO-PDR, France
6Centre IRD d'île de France, 32, avenue Henri Varagnat, 93143 Bondy Cedex, France
Abstract. In order to assess whether eroded carbon is a net source or sink of atmospheric CO2, characterisation of the chemical composition and residence time of eroded organic matter (EOM) at the landscape level is needed. This information is crucial to evaluate how fast EOM can be decomposed by soil microbes during its lateral transport. This study considers a continuum of scales to measure the fate of EOM during its transport, across a steep hillslope landscape of the Mekong basin, with intense erosion. Here we show that changes in the chemical composition of EOM (measured by NMR spectroscopy) and in its 13C and 15N isotope composition provide consistent evidence for EOM decomposition during the lateral transport of carbon on time scales of less than 50 yr across distances of 10 km. Between individual soil units (1 m2) to a small watershed (107 m2), the observed 28% decrease of the C/N ratio and the enrichment of 13C and 15N isotopes in EOM is of similar magnitude than the enrichment with depth in soil profiles due to soil organic matter "vertical" decomposition. Radiocarbon measurements indicated that these changes are not related to the slow transformation of soil carbon during pedogenesis, but rather to an acceleration of the SOM stabilisation process during its journey through the watershed.