Understanding Carbon Accumulation Below Ground and the Role of Nutrients Under Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels

Cesar Terrer Moreno | 20-ERD-055

Project Overview

Terrestrial ecosystems absorb on average 30% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions every year, which can be stored as plant biomass, soil carbon, or both, strongly reducing the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere and the pace of climate change. However, the future of this ecosystem service is uncertain because the land sink must have a saturation point, and because soil nutrients can limit plant growth. Accurate climate projections thus require a quantification of biomass and soil carbon (C) pools and their potential to continue storing C in a climate change context. Here, we addressed critical gaps in the quantification of current C pools and their future trajectories in response to rising CO2, including the role of growth-limiting nutrients.

We have completed three major projects to address some of the most important gaps in Earth–system science: (1) a global quantification of the spatial distribution of plant nitrogen and phosphorus limitations; (2) a spatially explicit global quantification of plant root biomass; and (3) projections of the patterns of soil C stocks under elevated CO2. In this last project, we found a negative relationship between changes in biomass and soil C, contradicting the current paradigm in carbon models that biomass and soil C increase in tandem. These three projects have been published in top journals and represent scientific advances in the field that will contribute a more accurate representation of the C-cycle in biogeochemical models that are used to predict the climate of the future.

Mission Impact

Climate change is the greatest threat to global security, as recognized by the United Nations. Natural climate solutions have garnered significant attention as a mechanism for CO2 drawdown in recent years, as demonstrated with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Engineering the Carbon Economy Initiative partnerships with the State of California and Microsoft Corporation. The research developed here establishes fundamental knowledge required to improve resilience to climate risk by understanding vulnerability of ecosystems productivity to climate change. These skills are of critical importance to address global-level challenges and priorities to combat climate change and its impacts, Goal 13 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and to limit global temperature rise to well below 2ºC as adopted in the Paris Agreement at the COP21. These results have implications for (1) climate predictions, which are essential for national security and threats related to a changing climate, and (2) natural climate solutions, with the goal of capturing carbon from the atmosphere to slow the pace of global warming. This project has led to scientific investigations that can help build the foundation for more accurate Earth system land models. The science underlying this research is of key interest to DOE-BER (Biological and Environmental Research) programs, including DOE's Earth System Land Model (E3SM) development and environmental systems science, particularly the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program. This research will strengthen Livermore's Engineering the Carbon Economy Initiative and support efforts currently underway to grow a program in soil carbon as a component of a carbon neutral economy for both the State of California and the nation.

Publications, Presentations, and Patents

Bell, Stephen, Carles Barriocanal, César Terrer, and Antoni Rosell-Melé. 2020. "Management Opportunities for Soil Carbon Sequestration Following Agricultural Land Abandonment." Environmental Science & Policy 108 (June): 104-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.03.018.

Bell, Stephen M., César Terrer, Carles Barriocanal, Robert B. Jackson, and Antoni Rosell-Melé. 2020. "Soil Organic Carbon Accumulation Rates on Mediterranean Abandoned Agricultural Lands." Science of The Total Environment, November, 143535. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143535.

Chen, Ji, Kees Jan van Groenigen, Bruce A. Hungate, César Terrer, Jan-Willem van Groenigen, Fernando T. Maestre, Samantha Ying, et al. n.d. "Long-Term Nitrogen Loading Alleviates Phosphorus Limitation in Terrestrial Ecosystems." Global Change Biology n/a (n/a). Accessed June 12, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15218.

Du, Enzai, César Terrer, Adam F. A. Pellegrini, Anders Ahlström, Caspar J. van Lissa, Xia Zhao, Nan Xia, Xinhui Wu, and Robert B. Jackson. 2020. "Global Patterns of Terrestrial Nitrogen and Phosphorus Limitation," Nature Geoscience, February, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0530-4.

Franklin, Oskar, Sandy P. Harrison, Roderick Dewar, Caroline E. Farrior, Åke Brännström, Ulf Dieckmann, Stephan Pietsch, et al. 2020. "Organizing Principles for Vegetation Dynamics," Nature Plants, May, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-020-0655-x.

Huang, Xiaomin, César Terrer, Feike A. Dijkstra, Bruce A. Hungate, Weijian Zhang, and Kees Jan van Groenigen. 2020. "New Soil Carbon Sequestration with Nitrogen Enrichment: A Meta-Analysis," Plant and Soil, August. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04617-x.

Hungate, Bruce A., Jane C. Marks, Mary E. Power, Egbert Schwartz, Kees Jan van Groenigen, Steven J. Blazewicz, Peter Chuckran, et al. 2021. "The Functional Significance of Bacterial Predators," MBio 12 (2). https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.00466-21.

Ma, Haozhi, Lidong Mo, Thomas W. Crowther, Daniel S. Maynard, Johan van den Hoogen, Benjamin D. Stocker, César Terrer, and Constantin M. Zohner. 2021. "The Global Distribution and Environmental Drivers of Aboveground versus Belowground Plant Biomass," Nature Ecology & Evolution, June, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-02101485-1.

Pellegrini, Adam F. A., Tyler Refsland, Colin Averill, César Terrer, A. Carla Staver, Dale G. Brockway, Anthony Caprio, et al. 2021. "Decadal Changes in Fire Frequencies Shift Tree Communities and Functional Traits," Nature Ecology & Evolution, February, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-021-01401-7.

Soudzilovskaia, Nadejda A., Peter M. van Bodegom, César Terrer, Maarten van't Zelfde, Ian McCallum, M. Luke McCormack, Joshua B. Fisher, Mark C. Brundrett, Nuno César de Sá, and Leho Tedersoo. 2019. "Global Mycorrhizal Plant Distribution Linked to Terrestrial Carbon Stocks," Nature Communications 10 (1): 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467019-13019-2.

Terrer, C., R. P. Phillips, B. A. Hungate, J. Rosende, J. Pett-Ridge, M. E. Craig, K. J. van Groenigen, et al. 2021. "A Trade-off between Plant and Soil Carbon Storage under Elevated CO2," Nature 591 (7851): 599-603. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03306-8.

Terrer, César. 2021. "Balancing Carbon Storage under Elevated CO 2," Nature, May. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-01117-5.

Van Sundert, Kevin, Dajana Radujkovic‡, Nathalie Cools, Bruno De Vos, Sophia Etzold, Marcos Fernández-Martínez, Ivan A. Janssens, et al., 2020. "Towards Comparable Assessment of the Soil Nutrient Status across Scales: a ”Review and Development of Nutrient Metrics," Global Change Biology 26 (2): 392-409. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14802.

Walker, Anthony P., Martin G. De Kauwe, Ana Bastos, Soumaya Belmecheri, Katerina Georgiou, Ralph F. Keeling, Sean M. McMahon, et al. n.d. "Integrating the Evidence for a Terrestrial Carbon Sink Caused by Increasing Atmospheric CO2," New Phytologist n/a (n/a). Accessed December 4, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.16866.