, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 115–145 | Cite as

Forest soil carbon inventories and dynamics along an elevation gradient in the southern Appalachian Mountains

  • C. T. GartenJr.
  • W. M. PostIII
  • P. J. Hanson
  • L. W. Cooper


Soil organic carbon (SOC) was partitioned between unprotected and protected pools in six forests along an elevation gradient in the southern Appalachian Mountains using two physical methods: flotation in aqueous CaCl2 (1.4 g/mL) and wet sieving through a 0.053 mm sieve. Both methods produced results that were qualitatively and quantitatively similar. Along the elevation gradient, 28 to 53% of the SOC was associated with an unprotected pool that included forest floor O-layers and other labile soil organic matter (SOM) in various stages of decomposition. Most (71 to 83%) of the C in the mineral soil at the six forest sites was identified as protected because of its association with a heavy soil fraction (>1.4 g/mL) or a silt-clay soil fraction. Total inventories of SOC in the forests (to a depth of 30 cm) ranged from 384 to 1244 mg C/cm2. The turnover time of the unprotected SOC was negatively correlated (r=−0.95, p<0.05) with mean annual air temperature (MAT) across the elevation gradient. Measured SOC inventories, annual C returns to the forest floor, and estimates of C turnover associated with the protected soil pool were used to parameterize a simple model of SOC dynamics. Steady-state predictions with the model indicated that, with no change in C inputs, the low-(235–335 m), mid-(940–1000 m), and high-(1650–1670 m) elevation forests under study might surrender ≈ 40 to 45% of their current SOC inventory following a 4°C increase in MAT. Substantial losses of unprotected SOM as a result of a warmer climate could have longterm impacts on hydrology, soil quality, and plant nutrition in forest ecosystems throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Key words

climate C/N ratios light-fraction organic matter particulate organic matter soil C turnover 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. T. GartenJr.
    • 1
  • W. M. PostIII
    • 1
  • P. J. Hanson
    • 1
  • L. W. Cooper
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Sciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA

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