No significant changes in topsoil carbon in the grasslands of northern China between the 1980s and 2000s
Shangshi Liu1,2, Yuanhe Yang1, Haihua Shen1, Huifeng Hu1, Xia Zhao1, He Li1,2, Taoyu Liu1,2, and Jingyun Fang1,31State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China 2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China 3Department of Ecology, Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
Received: 02 Nov 2016 – Accepted for review: 12 Dec 2016 – Discussion started: 02 Jan 2017
Abstract. The grasslands of northern China store a large amount of soil organic carbon (SOC), and the small changes in SOC stock could significantly affect the regional C cycle. However, recent estimates of SOC changes in this region are highly controversial. In this study, we examined the changes in the SOC density (SOCD) in the upper 30 cm of the grasslands of northern China between the 1980s and 2000s, using an improved approach that integrates field-based measurements into machine learning algorithms (artificial neural network and random forest). The random forest-generated SOCD averaged 5.55 kg C m−2 in the 1980s and 5.53 kg C m−2 in the 2000s. The change ranged between −0.17 and 0.22 kg C m−2 at the 95 % confidence level, suggesting that the overall SOCD did not change significantly during the study period. However, the change in SOCD exhibited large regional variability. The topsoil of the Inner Mongolian grasslands experienced a significant C loss (4.86 vs. 4.33 kg C m-2), whereas that of the Xinjiang grasslands exhibited an accumulation of C (5.55 vs. 6.46 kg C m−2). In addition, the topsoil C in the Tibetan alpine grasslands remained relatively stable (6.12 vs. 6.06 kg C m−2). A comparison of different grassland types indicated that SOCD exhibited significant decreases in typical steppe, whereas showed increases in mountain meadow, and were stable in the remaining grasslands (alpine meadow, alpine steppe, mountain steppe and desert steppe). Climate change could partly explain these changes in the SOCD of the different grassland types. Increases in precipitation could lead to SOC increase in temperate grasslands and SOC loss in alpine grasslands, while climate warming is likely to cause SOC loss in temperate grasslands. Overall, our study shows that northern grasslands in China remained a neutral SOC sink between the 1980s and 2000s.
Liu, S., Yang, Y., Shen, H., Hu, H., Zhao, X., Li, H., Liu, T., and Fang, J.: No significant changes in topsoil carbon in the grasslands of northern China between the 1980s and 2000s, Biogeosciences Discuss., doi:10.5194/bg-2016-473, in review, 2017.