Introducing a Decomposition Rate Modifier in the Rothamsted Carbon Model to Predict Soil Organic Carbon Stocks in Saline Soils

Raj Setia, Pete Smith, Petra Marschner, Jeff Baldock, David Chittleborough, Joanne Ursula Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Soil organic carbon (SOC) models such as the Rothamsted Carbon Model (RothC) have been used to estimate SOC dynamics in soils over different time scales but, until recently, their ability to accurately predict SOC stocks/carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from salt-affected soils has not been assessed. Given the large extent of salt-affected soils (19% of the 20.8 billion ha of arable land on Earth), this may lead to miss-estimation of CO2 release. Using soils from two salt-affected regions (one in Punjab, India and one in South Australia), an incubation study was carried out measuring CO2 release over 120 days. The soils varied both in salinity (measured as electrical conductivity (EC) and calculated as osmotic potential using EC and water content) and sodicity (measured as sodium adsorption ratio, SAR). For soils from both regions, the osmotic potential had a significant positive relationship with CO2-C release, but no significant relationship was found between SAR and CO2-C release. The monthly cumulative CO2-C was simulated using RothC. RothC was modified to take into account reductions in plant inputs due to salinity. A subset of non-salt-affected soils was used to derive an equation for a "lab-effect" modifier to account for changes in decomposition under lab conditions and this modifier was significantly related with pH. Using a subset of salt-affected soils, a decomposition rate modifier (as a function of osmotic potential) was developed to match measured and modelled CO2-C release after correcting for the lab effect. Using this decomposition rate modifier, we found an agreement (R-2 = 0.92) between modelled and independently measured data for a set of soils from the incubation experiment. RothC, modified by including reduced plant inputs due to salinity and the salinity decomposition rate modifier, was used to predict SOC stocks of soils in a field in South Australia. The predictions clearly showed that SOC stocks are reduced in saline soils. Therefore both the decomposition rate modifier and plant input modifier should be taken into account when accounting for SOC turnover in saline soils. Since modeling has previously not accounted for the impact of salinity, our results suggest that previous predictions may have overestimated SOC stocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6396-6403
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number15
Early online date15 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2011


  • Microbial communities
  • Croplands
  • Biomass
  • Impact
  • Pools


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