Decreased soil organic matter in a long-term soil warming experiment lowers soil water holding capacity and affects soil thermal and hydrological buffering
Werner, William J.
Melillo, Jerry M.
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Long‐term soil warming can decrease soil organic matter (SOM), resulting in self‐reinforcing feedback to the global climate system. We investigated additional consequences of SOM reduction for soil water holding capacity (WHC) and soil thermal and hydrological buffering. At a long‐term soil warming experiment in a temperate forest in the northeastern United States, we suspended the warming treatment for 104 days during the summer of 2017. The formerly heated plot remained warmer (+0.39 °C) and drier (−0.024 cm3 H2O cm−3 soil) than the control plot throughout the suspension. We measured decreased SOM content (−0.184 g SOM g−1 for O horizon soil, −0.010 g SOM g−1 for A horizon soil) and WHC (−0.82 g H2O g−1 for O horizon soil, −0.18 g H2O g−1 for A horizon soil) in the formerly heated plot relative to the control plot. Reduced SOM content accounted for 62% of the WHC reduction in the O horizon and 22% in the A horizon. We investigated differences in SOM composition as a possible explanation for the remaining reductions with Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectra. We found FTIR spectra that correlated more strongly with WHC than SOM, but those particular spectra did not differ between the heated and control plots, suggesting that SOM composition affects WHC but does not explain treatment differences in this study. We conclude that SOM reductions due to soil warming can reduce WHC and hydrological and thermal buffering, further warming soil and decreasing SOM. This feedback may operate in parallel, and perhaps synergistically, with carbon cycle feedbacks to climate change.
Author Posting. © American Geophysical Union, 2020. This article is posted here by permission of American Geophysical Union for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Geophysical Research- Biogeosciences 125(4), (2020): e2019JG005158, doi:10.1029/2019JG005158.
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