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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Original research article 06 Aug 2018

Original research article | 06 Aug 2018

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal SOIL (SOIL).

Evaluating the carbon sequestration potential of volcanic soils in South Iceland after birch afforestation

Matthias Hunziker1, Olafur Arnalds2, and Nikolaus J. Kuhn1 Matthias Hunziker et al.
  • 1Department of Environmental Sciences, Physical Geography and Environmental Change, Klingelbergstrasse 27, 4056 Basel, Switzerland
  • 2Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Agricultural University of Iceland, Hvanneyri, Iceland

Abstract. Afforestation is a strategy to sequester atmospheric carbon in the terrestrial system and to enhance ecosystem services. Iceland's large areas of formerly vegetated and now degraded ecosystems therefore have a high potential to act as carbon sinks. Consequently, the ecological restoration of these landscape systems is part of climate mitigation programs supported by the Icelandic government. The aim of this study was to explore the change of the soil organic carbon (SOC) pools and to estimate the SOC sequestration potential during the re-establishment of birch forest on severely degraded land. Differently aged afforested mountain birch sites (15, 20, 25 and 50 years) were compared with sites of severely degraded land, naturally growing remnants of mountain birch woodland and grasslands which were re-vegetated using fertilizer and grass seeds 50 years ago. The soil was sampled to estimate the SOC stocks and for physical fractionation to characterize the quality of the SOC.

The results of our study show that the severely degraded soils can potentially sequester an additional 20tCha−1 (0–30cm) to reach the SOC stock of naturally growing birch woodlands. After 50 years of birch growth, the SOC stock is lower than that of naturally growing birch woodland. Hence, afforested stands can sequester additional SOC after 50 years of birch growth. The SOC fractionation revealed that at all tested sites most of the carbon was stored in the <63μm fraction. However, the particulate organic matter (POM) fraction was enriched most during the succession of afforested mountain birch stands (+12tPOM-Cha−1). The study also found a doubling of the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration after 50 years of birch growth. Therefore, we assume that carbon deriving from the afforestation process is sequestered as labile SOC, which may be partly released to the atmosphere during the process of stabilization with the mineral soil phases in the future. Our results are limited in their scope since the selected sites do not fully reflect the heterogeneity of landscape evolution and the range of soil degradation conditions. As an alternative, we suggest using repeated plot measurements instead of space-for-time substitution approaches for testing C changes in severely degraded volcanic soils. Our findings clearly show that detailed measurements on the SOC quality are needed to estimate the SOC sequestration potential of restoration activities on severely degraded volcanic soils is needed, rather than only measuring SOC-concentration and SOC stocks.

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Short summary
Afforestation on severely degraded volcanic soils/landscapes is an important process concerning ecological restoration in Iceland. These landscapes have a high potential to act as carbon sink. We tested the soil (0–30 cm) of different stages of afforested (mountain birch) landscapes and analyzed the quantity and quality of the soil organic carbon. There is an increase of the total SOC stock during the encroachment. The increase is mostly because of POM SOC. Such soils demand SOC quality tests.
Afforestation on severely degraded volcanic soils/landscapes is an important process concerning...