Soil Erosion Model Tackles Missing Carbon Sink

By on June 24, 2016

Predicting climate change effects is only possible with an accurate understanding of the world’s carbon budget. Scientists at Georgia Tech show in a recent study that a missing sink in estimates of the world carbon budget might be partially explained using a predictive model that emphasizes the influence of soil erosion.

Holcombe’s Branch watershed in South Carolina, an area plagued by soil erosion, was used to gather data for the high-resolution model, called the Triangulated Irregular Network-based Real-time Integrated Basin-Simulator-Erosion and Carbon Oxidation model.

The model incorporates topographic gradients in complicated watershed morphology and includes effects from single, influential events such as heavy rains, something earlier models don’t capture. The approach is unique because it includes hydrologic, geomorphic and biogeochemical physics-based processes and expresses them in a spatially-explicit model.

Findings of the study emphasized the importance of land management practices in determining whether an area acts as a carbon sink or source; the fact that erosion-induced carbon fluxes can differ widely depending on topographical variation; and that even small-scale effects shouldn’t be ignored in carbon budget estimates.

Image Credit: Rob Felt / Georgia Tech

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