Soil erosion is unlikely to drive a future carbon sink in Europe

Emanuele Lugato (Corresponding Author), Pete Smith, Pasquale Borrelli, Panos Panagos, Cristiano Ballabio, Alberto Orgiazzi, Oihane Fernandez-Ugalde, Luca Montanarella, Arwyn Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
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Understanding of the processes governing soil organic carbon turnover is confounded by the fact that C feedbacks driven by soil erosion have not yet been fully explored at large scale. However, in a changing climate, variation in rainfall erosivity (and hence soil erosion) may change the amount of C displacement, hence inducing feedbacks onto the land C cycle. Using a consistent biogeochemistry-erosion model framework to quantify the impact of future climate on the C cycle, we show that C input increases were offset by higher heterotrophic respiration under climate change. Taking into account all the additional feedbacks and C fluxes due to displacement by erosion, we estimated a net source of 0.92 to 10.1 Tg C year−1 from agricultural soils in the European Union to the atmosphere over the period 2016–2100. These ranges represented a weaker and stronger C source compared to a simulation without erosion (1.8 Tg C year−1), respectively, and were dependent on the erosion-driven C loss parameterization, which is still very uncertain. However, when setting a baseline with current erosion rates, the accelerated erosion scenario resulted in 35% more eroded C, but its feedback on the C cycle was marginal. Our results challenge the idea that higher erosion driven by climate will lead to a C sink in the near future.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbereaau3523
Number of pages7
JournalScience Advances
Issue number11
Early online date14 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


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