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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 26 Apr 2019

Submitted as: research article | 26 Apr 2019

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Vertical partitioning of CO2 production in a Dystric Cambisol

Patrick Wordell-Dietrich1,2, Axel Don2, Anja Wotte3,4, Janet Rethemeyer4, Jörg Bachmann5, Mirjam Helfrich2, Kristina Kirfel6, and Christoph Leuschner6 Patrick Wordell-Dietrich et al.
  • 1Institute of Soil Science and Site Ecology, Technische Universität Dresden, Pienner Straße 19, 01737 Tharandt, Germany
  • 2Thünen Institute of Climate-Smart Agriculture, Bundesallee 50, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany
  • 3Institute of Geology, Technische Univesität Bergakademie Freiberg, Bernhard-von-Cotta Straße 2, 09599 Freiberg, Germany
  • 4Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, University of Cologne, Zülpicher Straße 49b, 50674 Köln, Germany
  • 5Institute of Soil Science, Leibniz University Hannover, Herrenhäuser Straße 2, 30451 Hannover, Germany
  • 6Plant Ecology, Albrecht Haller Institute for Plant Science, University of Göttingen, Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen,Germany

Abstract. Large amounts of total organic carbon are temporarily stored in soils, which makes soil respiration one of the major sources of terrestrial CO2 fluxes within the global carbon cycle. More than half of global soil organic carbon (SOC) is stored in subsoils (below 30 cm), which represent a significant C pool. Although several studies and models have investigated soil respiration, little is known about the quantitative contribution of subsoils to total soil respiration or about the sources of CO2 production in subsoils. In a two-year field study in a European beech forest in northern Germany, vertical CO2 concentration profiles were continuously measured at three locations and CO2 production quantified in the topsoil and the subsoil. To determine the contribution of fresh litter-derived C to CO2 production in the three soil profiles, an isotopic labelling experiment using 13C-enriched leaf litter was performed. Additionally, radiocarbon measurements of CO2 in the soil atmosphere were used to obtain information about the age of the C source in CO2 production. At the study site, it was found that 90 % of total soil respiration was produced in the first 30 cm of the soil profile where 53 % of the SOC stock is stored. Freshly labelled litter inputs in the form of dissolved organic matter were only a minor source for CO2 production below a depth of 10 cm. In the first two months after litter application, fresh litter-derived C contributed on average 1 % at 10 cm depth and 0.1 % at 150 cm depth to CO2 in the soil profile. Thereafter, its contribution was less than 0.3 % and 0.05 % at 10 cm and 150 cm depths respectively. Furthermore CO2 in the soil profile had the same modern radiocarbon signature at all depths, indicating that CO2 in the subsoil originated from young C sources, despite a radiocarbon age bulk SOC in the subsoil. This suggests that fresh C inputs in subsoils in the form of roots and root exudates are rapidly respired and that other subsoil SOC seems to be relatively stable. The field labelling experiment also revealed a downward diffusion of 13CO2 in the soil profile against the total CO2 gradient. This isotopic dependency should be taken into account when using labelled 13CO2 and 14C isotope data as an age proxy for CO2 sources in the soil.

Patrick Wordell-Dietrich et al.

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Status: final response (author comments only)
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Patrick Wordell-Dietrich et al.

Patrick Wordell-Dietrich et al.


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Short summary
The release of CO2 from soils, known as soil respiration, plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. However, the contribution of different soil depths or the sources of soil CO2 have been only scarcely studied. We quantified the CO2 production for different soil layers (up to 1.5 m) in three soil profiles for 2 years. We found that 90 % of CO2 production occurs in the first 30 cm of the soil profile and that the CO2 originated from young carbon sources, revealed by radiocarbon measurements.
The release of CO2 from soils, known as soil respiration, plays a major role in the global...