Impact of global warming on soil organic carbon

Pete Smith, Changming Fang, Julian J. C. Dawson, John B. Moncrieff

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewpeer-review

225 Citations (Scopus)


Soils contain a stock of carbon that is about twice as large as that in the atmosphere and about three times that in vegetation. Small tosses from this large pool could have significant impacts on future atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, so the response of soils to global warming is of critical importance when assessing climate carbon cycle feedbacks. Models that have coupled climate and carbon cycles show a large divergence in the size of the predicted biospheric feedback to the atmosphere. Central questions that still remain when attempting to reduce this uncertainty in the response of soils to global warming are (1) the temperature sensitivity of soil organic matter, especially the more recalcitrant pools; (2) the balance between increased carbon inputs to the soil from increased production and increased losses due to increased rates of decomposition; and (3) interactions between global warming and other aspects of global change, including other climatic effects (e.g., changes in water balance), changes in atmospheric composition (e.g., increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration) and land-use change. In this chapter, we review trends in warming, factors affecting the response of soil carbon to global warming, evidence on the balance between changes in production and soil organic matter decomposition, recent research on the temperature sensitivity of soil organic carbon pools, methods for measuring soil responses to global warming, approaches to modeling soil responses to global warming, regions/ecosystems likely to be most vulnerable to future warming, and available technologies to reduce vulnerability of soil carbon to the impacts of future global warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-43
Number of pages43
JournalAdvances in Agronomy
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • land-use change
  • temperate grassland ecosystems
  • long-term experiments
  • climate-change
  • CO2 efflux
  • mineral soil
  • forest soil
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • matter decomposition
  • microbial biomass


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