Stability of buried carbon in deep-ploughed forest and cropland soils - implications for carbon stocks
Accumulation of soil organic carbon (SOC) may play a key role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. In particular, subsoil provides a great potential for additional SOC storage due to the assumed higher stability of subsoil SOC. The fastest way in which SOC reaches the subsoil is via burial, e.g. via erosion or deep ploughing. We assessed the effect of active SOC burial through deep ploughing on long-term SOC stocks and stability in forest and cropland subsoil. After 25–48 years, deep-ploughed subsoil contained significantly more SOC than reference subsoils, in both forest soil (+48%) and cropland (+67%). However, total SOC stocks down to 100 cm in deep-ploughed soil were greater than in reference soil only in cropland, and not in forests. This was explained by slower SOC accumulation in topsoil of deep-ploughed forest soils. Buried SOC was on average 32% more stable than reference SOC, as revealed by long-term incubation. Moreover, buried subsoil SOC had higher apparent radiocarbon ages indicating that it is largely isolated from exchange with atmospheric CO2. We concluded that deep ploughing increased subsoil SOC storage and that the higher subsoil SOC stability is not only a result of selective preservation of more stable SOC fractions.