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Nature. 2005 Sep 8;437(7056):245-8.

Carbon losses from all soils across England and Wales 1978-2003.

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National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield University, Silsoe MK45 4DT, UK.


More than twice as much carbon is held in soils as in vegetation or the atmosphere, and changes in soil carbon content can have a large effect on the global carbon budget. The possibility that climate change is being reinforced by increased carbon dioxide emissions from soils owing to rising temperature is the subject of a continuing debate. But evidence for the suggested feedback mechanism has to date come solely from small-scale laboratory and field experiments and modelling studies. Here we use data from the National Soil Inventory of England and Wales obtained between 1978 and 2003 to show that carbon was lost from soils across England and Wales over the survey period at a mean rate of 0.6% yr(-1) (relative to the existing soil carbon content). We find that the relative rate of carbon loss increased with soil carbon content and was more than 2% yr(-1) in soils with carbon contents greater than 100 g kg(-1). The relationship between rate of carbon loss and carbon content is irrespective of land use, suggesting a link to climate change. Our findings indicate that losses of soil carbon in England and Wales--and by inference in other temperate regions-are likely to have been offsetting absorption of carbon by terrestrial sinks.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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