Climatic Change

, Volume 80, Issue 1–2, pp 73–90 | Cite as

Long-term modeling of soil C erosion and sequestration at the small watershed scale

  • R. C. Izaurralde
  • J. R. Williams
  • W. M. Post
  • A. M. Thomson
  • W. B. McGill
  • L. B. Owens
  • R. Lal


The soil C balance is determined by the difference between inputs (e.g., plant litter, organic amendments, depositional C) and outputs (e.g., soil respiration, dissolved organic C leaching, and eroded C). There is a need to improve our understanding of whether soil erosion is a sink or a source of atmospheric CO2. The objective of this paper is to discover the long-term influence of soil erosion on the C cycle of managed watersheds near Coshocton, OH. We hypothesize that the amount of eroded C that is deposited in or out of a watershed compares in magnitude to the soil C changes induced via microbial respiration. We applied the erosion productivity impact calculator (EPIC) model to evaluate the role of erosion–deposition processes on the C balance of three small watersheds (∼1 ha). Experimental records from the USDA North Appalachian Experimental Watershed facility north of Coshocton, OH were used in the study. Soils are predominantly silt loam and have developed from loess-like deposits over residual bedrock. Management practices in the three watersheds have changed over time. Currently, watershed 118 (W118) is under a corn (Zea mays L.)–soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) no till rotation, W128 is under conventional till continuous corn, and W188 is under no till continuous corn. Simulations of a comprehensive set of ecosystem processes including plant growth, runoff, and water erosion were used to quantify sediment C yields. A simulated sediment C yield of 43 ± 22 kg C ha−1 year−1 compared favorably against the observed 31 ± 12 kg C ha−1 year−1 in W118. EPIC overestimated the soil C stock in the top 30-cm soil depth in W118 by 21% of the measured value (36.8 Mg C ha−1). Simulations of soil C stocks in the other two watersheds (42.3 Mg C ha−1 in W128 and 50.4 Mg C ha−1 in W188) were off by <1 Mg C ha−1. Simulated eroded C re-deposited inside (30–212 kg C ha−1 year−1) or outside (73–179 kg C ha−1 year−1) watershed boundaries compared in magnitude to a simulated soil C sequestration rate of 225 kg C ha−1 year−1 and to literature values. An analysis of net ecosystem carbon balance revealed that the watershed currently under a plow till system (W128) was a source of C to the atmosphere while the watersheds currently under a no till system (W118 and W188) behaved as C sinks of atmospheric CO2. Our results demonstrate a clear need for documenting and modeling the proportion of eroded soil C that is transported outside watershed boundaries and the proportion that evolves as CO2 to the atmosphere.


Soil Erosion Soil Respiration Sediment Yield Universal Soil Loss Equation Sequestration Rate 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. C. Izaurralde
    • 1
  • J. R. Williams
    • 2
  • W. M. Post
    • 3
  • A. M. Thomson
    • 1
  • W. B. McGill
    • 4
  • L. B. Owens
    • 5
  • R. Lal
    • 6
  1. 1.The Joint Global Change Research InstituteCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Blacklands Research CenterTexas A&M UniversityTempleUSA
  3. 3.Oak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  4. 4.College of Science and ManagementUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  5. 5.North Appalachian Experimental WatershedUSDA-Agricultural Research StationCoshoctonUSA
  6. 6.School of Natural Resources Food, Agricultural and Environmental SciencesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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