Articles | Volume 17, issue 19
Research article
06 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 06 Oct 2017

Modeling soil organic carbon dynamics and their driving factors in the main global cereal cropping systems

Guocheng Wang, Wen Zhang, Wenjuan Sun, Tingting Li, and Pengfei Han

Abstract. Changes in the soil organic carbon (SOC) stock are determined by the balance between the carbon input from organic materials and the output from the decomposition of soil C. The fate of SOC in cropland soils plays a significant role in both sustainable agricultural production and climate change mitigation. The spatiotemporal changes of soil organic carbon in croplands in response to different carbon (C) input management and environmental conditions across the main global cereal systems were studied using a modeling approach. We also identified the key variables that drive SOC changes at a high spatial resolution (0.1°  ×  0.1°) and over a long timescale (54 years from 1961 to 2014). A widely used soil C turnover model (RothC) and state-of-the-art databases of soil and climate variables were used in the present study. The model simulations suggested that, on a global average, the cropland SOC density increased at annual rates of 0.22, 0.45 and 0.69 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 under crop residue retention rates of 30, 60 and 90 %, respectively. Increasing the quantity of C input could enhance soil C sequestration or reduce the rate of soil C loss, depending largely on the local soil and climate conditions. Spatially, under a specific crop residue retention rate, relatively higher soil C sinks were found across the central parts of the USA, western Europe, and the northern regions of China. Relatively smaller soil C sinks occurred in the high-latitude regions of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and SOC decreased across the equatorial zones of Asia, Africa and America. We found that SOC change was significantly influenced by the crop residue retention rate (linearly positive) and the edaphic variable of initial SOC content (linearly negative). Temperature had weak negative effects, and precipitation had significantly negative impacts on SOC changes. The results can help guide carbon input management practices to effectively mitigate climate change through soil C sequestration in croplands on a global scale.

Short summary
Cropland soil carbon sequestration contribute to not only climate change mitigation but also to sustainable agricultural production. This paper investigates soil carbon dynamics across the global main cereal cropping systems at a fine spatial resolution, using a modeling approach based on state-of-the-art databases of soil and climate. The key environmental controls on soil carbon changes were also identified.
Final-revised paper