Estimates and determinants of stocks of deep soil carbon in Gabon, Central Africa

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© 2019 Despite the importance of tropical forest carbon to the global carbon cycle, research on carbon stocks is incomplete in major areas of the tropical world. Nowhere in the tropics is this more the case than in Africa, and especially Central Africa, where carbon stocks are known to be high but a scarcity of data limits understanding of carbon stocks and drivers. In this study, we present the first nation-wide measurements and determinants of soil carbon in Gabon, a nation in Central Africa. We estimated soil carbon to a 2-m depth using a systematic, random design of 59 plots located across Gabon. Soil carbon to a 2-m depth averaged 163 Mg ha −1 with a CV of 61%. These soil carbon stocks accounted for approximately half of the total carbon accumulated in aboveground biomass and soil pools. Nearly a third of soil carbon was stored in the second meter of soil, averaging 58 Mg ha −1 with a CV of 94%. Lithology, soil type, and terrain attributes were found to be significant predictors of cumulative SOC stocks to a 2-m depth. Current protocols of the IPCC are to sample soil carbon from the surface 30 cm, which in this study would underestimate soil carbon by 60% and underestimate ecosystem carbon by 30%. A nonlinear model using a power function predicted cumulative soil carbon stocks in the second meter with an average error of prediction of 3.2 Mg ha −1 (CV = 915%) of measured values. The magnitude and turnover of deep soil carbon in tropical forests needs to be estimated as more countries prioritize carbon accounting and monitoring in response to accelerating land-use change.





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Wade, AM, DD Richter, VP Medjibe, AR Bacon, PR Heine, LJT White and JR Poulsen (2019). Estimates and determinants of stocks of deep soil carbon in Gabon, Central Africa. Geoderma, 341. pp. 236–248. 10.1016/j.geoderma.2019.01.004 Retrieved from

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Daniel D. Richter

Professor in the Division of Earth and Climate Science

Richter’s research and teaching links soils with ecosystems and the wider environment, most recently Earth scientists’ Critical Zone.  He focuses on how humanity is transforming Earth’s soils from natural to human-natural systems, specifically how land-uses alter soil processes and properties on time scales of decades, centuries, and millennia.  Richter's book, Understanding Soil Change (Cambridge University Press), co-authored with his former PhD student Daniel Markewitz (Professor at University of Georgia), explores a legacy of soil change across the Southern Piedmont of North America, from the acidic soils of primary hardwood forests that covered the region until 1800, through the marked transformations affected by long-cultivated cotton, to contemporary soils of rapidly growing and intensively managed pine forests.  Richter and colleagues work to expand the concept of soil as the full biogeochemical weathering system of the Earth’s crust, ie, the Earth’s belowground Critical Zone, which can be tens of meters deep.  The research examines decadal to millennial changes in the chemistry and cycling of soil C, N, P, Ca, K, Mg, and trace elements B, Fe, Mn, Cu, Be, Zr, and Zn across full soil profiles as deep at 30-m.  Since 1988, Richter has worked at and directed the Long-Term Calhoun Soil-Ecosystem Experiment (LTSE) in the Piedmont of South Carolina, a collaborative study with the USDA Forest Service that quantifies how soils form as natural bodies and are transformed by human action, and a study that has grown to become an international model for such long-term soil and ecosystem studies.  In 2005, Richter and students initiated the first comprehensive international inventory project of the world’s LTSEs, using an advanced-format website that has networked metadata from 250 LTSEs.  The LTSEs project has held three workshops at Duke University, NCSU's Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and the USDA Forest Service's Calhoun Experimental Forest and Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, hosting representatives from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.  Richter's 60-year old Long Term Calhoun Soil and Ecosystem Experiment is linked to similar experiments and platforms around the world via the ‘Long-Term Soil-Ecosystem Experiments Global Inventory’, assembled by Dan Richter, Pete Smith, and Mike Hofmockel."He is an active member of the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Working Group on the Anthropocene.  Richter has written in the peer-reviewed literature about all of these projects, and in November 2014 his soils research at the Calhoun and his soils teaching were featured in Science magazine.


John Poulsen

Associate Professor of Tropical Ecology

John Poulsen is an ecologist with broad interests in the maintenance and regeneration of tropical forests and conservation of biodiversity. His research has focused on the effects of anthropogenic disturbance, such as logging and hunting, on forest structure and diversity, abundance of tropical animals, and ecological processes. He has conducted most of his research in Central Africa, where he has also worked as a conservation manager, directing projects to sustainably manage natural resources in and around parks and reserves, and as the coordinator of government programs to develop low emissions strategies and quantify and monitor forest carbon.

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