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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences eTheses
Title: Multiscale Soil Carbon Distribution in Two Sub-Arctic Landscapes
Author(s): Wayolle, Audrey A.J.
Supervisor(s): Wookey, Philip A.
Williams, Mat
Wilson, Clare
Keywords: carbon
Arctic soils
tundra heath
birch forest
tundra forest ecotone
sampling scheme
Issue Date: 30-Sep-2011
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: In recent years, concern has grown over the consequences of global warming. The arctic region is thought to be particularly vulnerable to increasing temperatures, and warming is occurring here substantially more rapidly than at lower latitudes. Consequently, assessments of the state of the Arctic are a focus of international efforts. For the terrestrial Arctic, large datasets are generated by remote sensing of above-ground variables, with an emphasis on vegetation properties, and, by association, carbon fluxes. However, the terrestrial component of the carbon (C) cycle remains poorly quantified and the below-ground distribution and stocks of soil C can not be quantified directly by remote sensing. Large areas of the Arctic are also difficult to access, limiting field surveys. The scientific community does know, however, that this region stores a massive proportion (although poorly quantified, soil C stocks for tundra soils vary from 96 to 192 Gt C) of the global reservoir of soil carbon, much of it in permafrost (900 Gt C), and these stocks may be very vulnerable to increased rates of decomposition due to rising temperatures. The consequences of this could be increasing source strength of the radiatively forcing gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). The principal objective of this project is to provide a critical evaluation of methods used to link soil C stocks and fluxes at the usual scales spanned by the field surveys (centimetre to kilometre) and remote sensing surveys (kilometre to hundreds of kilometres). The soil C distribution of two sub-arctic sites in contrasting climatic, landscape/geomorphologic and vegetation settings has been described and analysed. The transition between birch forest and tundra heath in the Abisko (Swedish Lapland) field site, and the transition between mire and birch forest in the Kevo (Finnish Lapland) field site span several vegetation categories and landscape contexts. The natural variability of below-ground C stocks (excluding coarse roots > 2 mm diameter), at scales from the centimetre to the kilometre scale, is high: 0.01 to 18.8 kg C m-2 for the 0 - 4 cm depth in a 2.5 km2 area of Abisko. The depths of the soil profiles and the soil C stocks are not directly linked to either vegetation categories or Leaf Area Index (LAI), thus vegetation properties are not a straightforward proxy for soil C distribution. When mapping soil or vegetation categories over large areas, it is usually necessary to aggregate several vegetation or soil categories to simplify the output (both for mapping and for modelling). Using this approach, an average value of 2.3 kg C m-2 was derived both for soils beneath treeless areas and forest understorey. This aggregated value is potentially misleading, however, because there is significant skew resulting from the inclusion of exposed ridges (with very low soil C stocks) in the ‘treeless’ category. Furthermore, if birch trees colonise tundra heath and other ‘open’ plant communities in the coming decades, there will likely be substantial shifts in soil C stocks. This will be both due to direct climate effects on decomposition, but also due to changes in above- and below-ground C inputs (both in quantity and quality) and possibly changes in so-called root ‘priming’ effects on the decomposition of existing organic matter. A model of soil respiration using parameters from field surveys shows that soils of the birch forest are more sensitive to increases in mean annual temperature than soils under tundra heath. The heterogeneity of soil properties, moisture and temperature regimes and vegetation cover in ecotone areas means that responses to climate change will differ across these landscapes. Any exercise in upscaling results from field surveys has to indicate the heterogeneity of vegetation and soil categories to guide soil sampling and modelling of C cycle processes in the Arctic.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Biological and Environmental Sciences

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