Perspectives on studies on soil carbon stocks and the carbon sequestration potential of China

JuFeng Zheng , Cheng Kun, Pan GenXing, Pete Smith, Li LianQing, Zhang XuHui, Zheng JinWei, Han XiaoJun, Du YanLing

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Soil carbon stocks and sequestration have been given a lot of attention recently in the study of terrestrial ecosystems and global climate change. This review focuses on the progress made on the estimation of the soil carbon stocks of China, and the characterization of carbon dynamics of croplands with regard to climate change, and addresses issues on the mineralization of soil organic carbon in relation to greenhouse gas emissions. By integrating existing research data, China's total soil organic carbon (SOC) stock is estimated to be 90 Pg and its inorganic carbon (SIC) stock as 60 Pg, with SOC sequestration rates in the range of 20-25 Tg/a for the last two decades. An estimation of the biophysical potential of SOC sequestration has been generally agreed as being 2 Pg over the long term, of which only 1/3 could be attainable using contemporary agricultural technologies in all of China's croplands. Thus, it is critical to enhance SOC sequestration and mitigate climate change to improve agricultural and land use management in China. There have been many instances where SOC accumulation may not induce an increased amount of decomposition under a warming scenario but instead favor improved cropland productivity and ecosystem functioning. Furthermore, unchanged or even decreased net global warming potential (GWP) from croplands with enhanced SOC has been reported by a number of case studies using life cycle analysis. Future studies on soil carbon stocks and the sequestration potential of China are expected to focus on: (1) Carbon stocks and the sequestration capacity of the earths' surface systems at scales ranging from the plot to the watershed and (2) multiple interface processes and the synergies between carbon sequestration and ecosystem productivity and ecosystem functioning at scales from the molecular level to agro-ecosystems. Soil carbon science in China faces new challenges and opportunities to undertake integrated research applicable to many areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3748-3758
Number of pages11
JournalChinese Science Bulletin
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • soil carbon stock
  • carbon sequestration
  • SOC stability
  • greenhouse gas emission
  • soil carbon science
  • topsoil organic-carbon
  • long-term fertilization
  • Tai Lake region
  • last 2 decades
  • agricultural soils
  • paddy soil
  • microbial community
  • land fragmentation
  • South China
  • storage


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