We use a soil carbon (C) model (RothC), driven by a range of climate models for a range of climate scenarios to examine the impacts of future climate on global soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks. The results suggest an overall global increase in global SOC stocks by 2100 under all scenarios, but with a different extent of increase among the climate model and emissions scenarios. Projected land use changes are also simulated, but have relatively small impacts at the global scale. Whether soils gain or lose SOC depends upon the balance between C inputs and decomposition. Changes in net primary production (NPP) change C inputs to the soil, whilst decomposition usually increases under warmer temperatures, but can also be slowed by decreased soil moisture. Underlying the global trend of increasing SOC under future climate is a complex pattern of regional SOC change. SOC losses are projected to occur in northern latitudes where higher SOC decomposition rates due to higher temperatures are not balanced by increased NPP, whereas in tropical regions, NPP increases override losses due to higher SOC decomposition. The spatial heterogeneity in the response of SOC to changing climate shows how delicately balanced the competing gain and loss processes are, with subtle changes in temperature, moisture, soil type and land use, interacting to determine whether SOC increases or decreases in the future. Our results suggest that we should stop asking the general question of whether SOC stocks will increase or decrease under future climate since there is no single answer. Instead, we should focus on improving our prediction of the factors that determine the size and direction of change, and the land management practices that can be implemented to protect and enhance SOC stocks.
Gottschalk, P., Smith, J. U., Wattenbach, M., Bellarby, J., Stehfest, E., Arnell, N., Osborne, T., & Smith, P. (2012). How will organic carbon stocks in mineral soils evolve under future climate? Global projections using RothC for a range of climate change scenarios. Biogeosciences, 9, 411-451. https://doi.org/10.5194/bgd-9-411-2012