skip to main content
DOE PAGES title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: Tracing the source of soil organic matter eroded from temperate forest catchments using carbon and nitrogen isotopes

Abstract

Here, soil erosion continuously redistributes soil and associated soil organic matter (SOM) on the Earth's surface, with important implications for biogeochemical cycling of essential elements and terrestrial carbon sequestration. Despite the importance of soil erosion, surprisingly few studies have evaluated the sources of eroded carbon (C). We used natural abundance levels of the stable and radioactive isotopes of C (13C and 14C) and stable isotope of nitrogen (15N) to elucidate the origins of SOM eroded from low-order catchments along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. Our work was conducted in two relatively undisturbed catchments (low elevation = 1800 m, and high elevation = 2300 m) of the Kings River Experimental Watersheds (KREW) in the Sierra National Forest. Sediment captured in basins at the outlet of each gauged watershed were compared to possible source materials, which included: upland surficial organic horizons (i.e., forest floor) and mineral soils (0–0.6 m) from three landform positions (i.e., crest, backslope, and toeslope), stream bank soils (0–0.6 m), and stream-bed materials (0–0.05 m). We found that most of the organic matter (OM) in the captured sediments was composed of O-horizon material that had high C concentrations. Radiocarbon analyses also showed that themore » captured OM is composed of modern (post-1950) C, with fraction modern values at or above 1.0. Our results suggest that surface (sheet) erosion, as opposed to channeling through established streams and episodic mass wasting events, is likely the largest source of sediment exported out of these minimally disturbed, headwater catchments. The erosional export of sediment with a high concentration of C, especially in the form of relatively undecomposed litter from the O horizon, suggests that a large fraction of the exported C is likely to be decomposed during or after erosion; hence, it is unlikely that soil erosion acts as a significant net sink for atmospheric CO2 in these low-order, temperate forest catchments.« less

Authors:
 [1]; ORCiD logo [1];  [2];  [3];  [4];  [1];  [1]
  1. Univ. of California, Merced, CA (United States)
  2. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Fresno, CA (United States)
  3. Univ. of Nevada, Reno, NV (United States)
  4. Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (LLNL), Livermore, CA (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (LLNL), Livermore, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE; National Science Foundation (NSF); USDA
OSTI Identifier:
1368004
Report Number(s):
LLNL-JRNL-691043
Journal ID: ISSN 0009-2541
Grant/Contract Number:  
AC52-07NA27344
Resource Type:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Chemical Geology
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 445; Journal Issue: C; Journal ID: ISSN 0009-2541
Publisher:
Elsevier
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; 60 APPLIED LIFE SCIENCES; Erosion; Radiocarbon; Sediment sources; Sierra Nevada; Soil organic matter; Stable isotopes

Citation Formats

McCorkle, Emma P., Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw, Hunsaker, Carolyn T., Johnson, Dale W., McFarlane, Karis J., Fogel, Marilyn L., and Hart, Stephen C. Tracing the source of soil organic matter eroded from temperate forest catchments using carbon and nitrogen isotopes. United States: N. p., 2016. Web. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemgeo.2016.04.025.
McCorkle, Emma P., Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw, Hunsaker, Carolyn T., Johnson, Dale W., McFarlane, Karis J., Fogel, Marilyn L., & Hart, Stephen C. Tracing the source of soil organic matter eroded from temperate forest catchments using carbon and nitrogen isotopes. United States. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemgeo.2016.04.025
McCorkle, Emma P., Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw, Hunsaker, Carolyn T., Johnson, Dale W., McFarlane, Karis J., Fogel, Marilyn L., and Hart, Stephen C. Fri . "Tracing the source of soil organic matter eroded from temperate forest catchments using carbon and nitrogen isotopes". United States. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemgeo.2016.04.025. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1368004.
@article{osti_1368004,
title = {Tracing the source of soil organic matter eroded from temperate forest catchments using carbon and nitrogen isotopes},
author = {McCorkle, Emma P. and Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw and Hunsaker, Carolyn T. and Johnson, Dale W. and McFarlane, Karis J. and Fogel, Marilyn L. and Hart, Stephen C.},
abstractNote = {Here, soil erosion continuously redistributes soil and associated soil organic matter (SOM) on the Earth's surface, with important implications for biogeochemical cycling of essential elements and terrestrial carbon sequestration. Despite the importance of soil erosion, surprisingly few studies have evaluated the sources of eroded carbon (C). We used natural abundance levels of the stable and radioactive isotopes of C (13C and 14C) and stable isotope of nitrogen (15N) to elucidate the origins of SOM eroded from low-order catchments along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. Our work was conducted in two relatively undisturbed catchments (low elevation = 1800 m, and high elevation = 2300 m) of the Kings River Experimental Watersheds (KREW) in the Sierra National Forest. Sediment captured in basins at the outlet of each gauged watershed were compared to possible source materials, which included: upland surficial organic horizons (i.e., forest floor) and mineral soils (0–0.6 m) from three landform positions (i.e., crest, backslope, and toeslope), stream bank soils (0–0.6 m), and stream-bed materials (0–0.05 m). We found that most of the organic matter (OM) in the captured sediments was composed of O-horizon material that had high C concentrations. Radiocarbon analyses also showed that the captured OM is composed of modern (post-1950) C, with fraction modern values at or above 1.0. Our results suggest that surface (sheet) erosion, as opposed to channeling through established streams and episodic mass wasting events, is likely the largest source of sediment exported out of these minimally disturbed, headwater catchments. The erosional export of sediment with a high concentration of C, especially in the form of relatively undecomposed litter from the O horizon, suggests that a large fraction of the exported C is likely to be decomposed during or after erosion; hence, it is unlikely that soil erosion acts as a significant net sink for atmospheric CO2 in these low-order, temperate forest catchments.},
doi = {10.1016/j.chemgeo.2016.04.025},
journal = {Chemical Geology},
number = C,
volume = 445,
place = {United States},
year = {2016},
month = {4}
}

Journal Article:
Free Publicly Available Full Text
Publisher's Version of Record

Citation Metrics:
Cited by: 34 works
Citation information provided by
Web of Science

Save / Share:

Works referenced in this record:

A method to detect soil carbon degradation during soil erosion
journal, January 2009


Soil Moisture Response to Snowmelt and Rainfall in a Sierra Nevada Mixed-Conifer Forest
journal, January 2011

  • Bales, Roger C.; Hopmans, Jan W.; O'Geen, Anthony T.
  • Vadose Zone Journal, Vol. 10, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.2136/vzj2011.0001

The boundless carbon cycle
journal, September 2009

  • Battin, Tom J.; Luyssaert, Sebastiaan; Kaplan, Louis A.
  • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 2, Issue 9
  • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo618

Monitoring soil organic carbon erosion with δ13C and δ15N on experimental field plots in the Venezuelan Andes
journal, October 2004


Erosion, deposition, and the persistence of soil organic matter: mechanistic considerations and problems with terminology: Som Stabilization in Eroding Landscapes
journal, May 2013

  • Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Kleber, Markus
  • Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Vol. 38, Issue 8
  • DOI: 10.1002/esp.3408

The Significance of the Erosion-induced Terrestrial Carbon Sink
journal, April 2007

  • Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Harte, John; Harden, Jennifer W.
  • BioScience, Vol. 57, Issue 4
  • DOI: 10.1641/B570408

Linking soil organic matter dynamics and erosion-induced terrestrial carbon sequestration at different landform positions: EROSION-INDUCED C SEQUESTRATION
journal, December 2008

  • Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Harden, Jennifer W.; Torn, Margaret S.
  • Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Vol. 113, Issue G4
  • DOI: 10.1029/2008JG000751

Persistence of soil organic matter in eroding versus depositional landform positions: EROSION AND SOIL ORGANIC MATTER DYNAMICS
journal, June 2012

  • Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Harden, Jennifer W.; Torn, Margaret S.
  • Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Vol. 117, Issue G2
  • DOI: 10.1029/2011JG001790

Contingency in the direction and mechanics of soil organic matter responses to increased rainfall
journal, March 2012

  • Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Suttle, K. Blake; Burton, Sarah D.
  • Plant and Soil, Vol. 358, Issue 1-2
  • DOI: 10.1007/s11104-012-1156-0

The influence of soil processes on carbon isotope distribution and turnover in the British uplands
journal, March 1999


Catchment source contributions to the sediment-bound organic matter degrading salmonid spawning gravels in a lowland river, southern England
journal, July 2013


Soil development along an elevational transect in the western Sierra Nevada, California
journal, August 1997


The role of hydrology in annual organic carbon loads and terrestrial organic matter export from a midwestern agricultural watershed
journal, March 2007

  • Dalzell, Brent J.; Filley, Timothy R.; Harbor, Jon M.
  • Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Vol. 71, Issue 6
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2006.12.009

Potential increase in floods in California’s Sierra Nevada under future climate projections
journal, November 2011


Lignin signature as a function of land abandonment and erosion in dry luvisols of SE Spain
journal, June 2012


Soil organic matter turnover is governed by accessibility not recalcitrance
journal, March 2012


The Global Carbon Cycle: A Test of Our Knowledge of Earth as a System
journal, October 2000


Effect of Sedimentation on Soil Organic Carbon Content and δ13C Values After 7 Years of Burial
journal, January 2013


The Use of Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopes to Study Watershed Erosion Processes
journal, August 2007


Variable composition of particle-bound organic carbon in steepland river systems
journal, January 2010

  • Gomez, Basil; Baisden, W. Troy; Rogers, Karyne M.
  • Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 115, Issue F4
  • DOI: 10.1029/2010JF001713

Carbon distribution and losses: erosion and deposition effects
journal, July 1998


Dynamic replacement and loss of soil carbon on eroding cropland
journal, December 1999

  • Harden, J. W.; Sharpe, J. M.; Parton, W. J.
  • Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 13, Issue 4
  • DOI: 10.1029/1999GB900061

Soil Erosion: Data Say C Sink
journal, April 2008


The soil production function and landscape equilibrium
journal, July 1997

  • Heimsath, Arjun M.; Dietrich, William E.; Nishiizumi, Kunihiko
  • Nature, Vol. 388, Issue 6640
  • DOI: 10.1038/41056

Riverine particulate organic carbon from an active mountain belt: Importance of landslides: LANDSLIDE MOBILIZED POC
journal, February 2008

  • Hilton, Robert G.; Galy, Albert; Hovius, Niels
  • Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 22, Issue 1
  • DOI: 10.1029/2006GB002905

Climatic and geomorphic controls on the erosion of terrestrial biomass from subtropical mountain forest: EROSION OF CARBON FROM MOUNTAIN FOREST
journal, August 2012

  • Hilton, Robert G.; Galy, Albert; Hovius, Niels
  • Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 26, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1029/2012GB004314

Tansley Review No. 95. 15N natural abundance in soil-plant systems
journal, October 1997


Effect of seasonal snow cover on suspended sediment runoff in a mountainous catchment
journal, March 2012


Carbon and nutrient contents in soils from the Kings River Experimental Watersheds, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
journal, January 2011


How air-drying and rewetting modify soil organic matter characteristics: An assessment to improve data interpretation and inference
journal, January 2015


Mountain erosion over 10 yr, 10 k.y., and 10 m.y. time scales
journal, January 2001


Cosmogenic nuclide methods for measuring long-term rates of physical erosion and chemical weathering
journal, January 2006

  • Kirchner, James W.; Riebe, Clifford S.; Ferrier, Kenneth L.
  • Journal of Geochemical Exploration, Vol. 88, Issue 1-3
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.gexplo.2005.08.060

Soil erosion and the global carbon budget
journal, July 2003


Preservation of organic matter and alteration of its carbon and nitrogen isotope composition during simulated and in situ early sedimentary diagenesis
journal, October 2002

  • Lehmann, Moritz F.; Bernasconi, Stefano M.; Barbieri, Alberto
  • Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Vol. 66, Issue 20
  • DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7037(02)00968-7

Combined use of stable isotopes and fallout radionuclides as soil erosion indicators in a forested mountain site, South Korea
journal, January 2013


Controls on Natural Nitrogen-15 and Carbon-13 Abundances in Forest Soil Organic Matter
journal, January 1988


Carbon Isotopes in Photosynthesis
journal, May 1988


Incorporating concentration dependence in stable isotope mixing models
journal, January 2002


Understanding Earth’s eroding surface with 10Be
journal, August 2011

  • Portenga, Eric W.; Bierman, Paul R.
  • GSA Today, Vol. 21, Issue 8
  • DOI: 10.1130/G111A.1

Anthropogenic perturbation of the carbon fluxes from land to ocean
journal, June 2013

  • Regnier, Pierre; Friedlingstein, Pierre; Ciais, Philippe
  • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 6, Issue 8
  • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1830

Minimal climatic control on erosion rates in the Sierra Nevada, California
journal, January 2001


Preferential erosion of black carbon on steep slopes with slash and burn agriculture
journal, January 2006


Rain properties controlling soil splash detachment
journal, February 2000


Stable carbon isotopes as an indicator for soil degradation in an alpine environment (Urseren Valley, Switzerland): Stable carbon isotopes to detect soil degradation
journal, April 2009

  • Schaub, Monika; Alewell, Christine
  • Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Vol. 23, Issue 10
  • DOI: 10.1002/rcm.4030

Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property
journal, October 2011

  • Schmidt, Michael W. I.; Torn, Margaret S.; Abiven, Samuel
  • Nature, Vol. 478, Issue 7367
  • DOI: 10.1038/nature10386

The Selection Erosion of Plant Nutrients in Runoff
journal, November 1985


Soils and climate change
journal, November 2012


Soil carbon and nitrogen erosion in forested catchments: implications for erosion-induced terrestrial carbon sequestration
journal, January 2015


Terrestrial sedimentation and the carbon cycle: Coupling weathering and erosion to carbon burial
journal, June 1998

  • Stallard, Robert F.
  • Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 12, Issue 2
  • DOI: 10.1029/98GB00741

Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region: SOIL ORGANIC CARBON POOLS
journal, June 2009

  • Tarnocai, C.; Canadell, J. G.; Schuur, E. A. G.
  • Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 23, Issue 2
  • DOI: 10.1029/2008GB003327

Radiocarbon and Soil Carbon Dynamics
journal, May 2009


AMS 14C Measurements of Fractionated Soil Organic Matter: An Approach to Deciphering the Soil Carbon Cycle
journal, January 1989


Rapid Exchange Between Soil Carbon and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Driven by Temperature Change
journal, April 1996


The Impact of Agricultural Soil Erosion on the Global Carbon Cycle
journal, October 2007


The River Continuum Concept
journal, January 1980

  • Vannote, Robin L.; Minshall, G. Wayne; Cummins, Kenneth W.
  • Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Vol. 37, Issue 1
  • DOI: 10.1139/f80-017

Performance of catalytically condensed carbon for use in accelerator mass spectrometry
journal, November 1984

  • Vogel, J. S.; Southon, J. R.; Nelson, D. E.
  • Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, Vol. 5, Issue 2
  • DOI: 10.1016/0168-583X(84)90529-9

Radiocarbon Dating of Soil Organic Matter
journal, May 1996

  • Wang, Yang; Amundson, Ronald; Trumbore, Susan
  • Quaternary Research, Vol. 45, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1006/qres.1996.0029

Erosion of upland hillslope soil organic carbon: Coupling field measurements with a sediment transport model: SOIL EROSION AND CARBON CYCLE
journal, July 2005

  • Yoo, Kyungsoo; Amundson, Ronald; Heimsath, Arjun M.
  • Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 19, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1029/2004GB002271

    Works referencing / citing this record:

    Sediment Fingerprinting Suggests Differential Suspended Particulate Matter Formation and Transport Processes Across Hydrologic Regimes
    journal, April 2018

    • Rose, L. A.; Karwan, D. L.; Aufdenkampe, A. K.
    • Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Vol. 123, Issue 4
    • DOI: 10.1002/2017jg004210

    Stabilization Mechanisms and Decomposition Potential of Eroded Soil Organic Matter Pools in Temperate Forests of the Sierra Nevada, California
    journal, January 2019

    • Stacy, Erin M.; Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Hunsaker, Carolyn T.
    • Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Vol. 124, Issue 1
    • DOI: 10.1029/2018jg004566

    Temperature and moisture are minor drivers of regional-scale soil organic carbon dynamics
    journal, April 2019


    Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory and Kings River Experimental Watersheds: A Synthesis of Measurements, New Insights, and Future Directions
    journal, January 2018

    • O'Geen, Anthony Toby; Safeeq, Mohammad; Wagenbrenner, Joseph
    • Vadose Zone Journal, Vol. 17, Issue 1
    • DOI: 10.2136/vzj2018.04.0081

    Pyrogenic Carbon Erosion: Implications for Stock and Persistence of Pyrogenic Carbon in Soil
    journal, March 2018


    Effects of Pretreatment Methods of Wheat Straw on Adsorption of Cd(II) from Waterlogged Paddy Soil
    journal, January 2019

    • Wu, Mengjie; Liu, Hongyu; Yang, Chunping
    • International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 16, Issue 2
    • DOI: 10.3390/ijerph16020205

    Quantifying nutrient uptake as driver of rock weathering in forest ecosystems by magnesium stable isotopes
    journal, January 2017


    Spatially distributed water-balance and meteorological data from the rain–snow transition, southern Sierra Nevada, California
    journal, January 2018


    Thermal alteration of soil organic matter properties: a systematic study to infer response of Sierra Nevada climosequence soils to forest fires
    journal, January 2017

    • Araya, Samuel N.; Fogel, Marilyn L.; Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw
    • SOIL, Vol. 3, Issue 1
    • DOI: 10.5194/soil-3-31-2017