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Changes in carbon storage since the pre-industrial era: a national scale analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
Article number100289
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>26/03/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Anthropocene
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date26/03/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Carbon stores in the terrestrial biosphere globally represent over 50% of present-day organic carbon reservoirs and have significantly altered over the last three centuries owing to anthropogenic disturbances. Conversion of natural land to agricultural uses often results in a loss of soil carbon, whilst atmospheric deposition of pollutants such as nitrogen has increased carbon storage in both soil and biomass. Terrestrial carbon storage underpins a range of ecosystem services, including climate regulation, food production, and water services. This storage is crucial for sustainable land management. Quantification of terrestrial carbon cycling at regional and national scales, and understanding how human-induced drivers have impacted present-day carbon stores is therefore required to inform sustainable land use policy. This study applies the N14CP model, an integrated soil-plant biogeochemistry carbon-nitrogen-phosphorus model, across the United Kingdom to simulate changes in terrestrial carbon storage from 1700 to 2020. The analysis shows that change in anthropogenic terrestrial carbon storage is a complex picture comprising of gains in natural areas due to nitrogen deposition and afforestation, and losses in arable areas. We observed an overall net increase in total terrestrial carbon storage of 6.9%. We note, however, that continued increases in carbon storage cannot be assumed due to (i) reduced influence of future nitrogen deposition as these systems become limited by other nutrients, (ii) the need to continue enhanced nitrogen inputs to maintain carbon sequestered, and (iii) carbon declines in arable areas continuing alongside diminishing gains in other land use types. This research provides a full picture of anthropogenic impacts on terrestrial organic carbon storage, accounting for changing nutrient cycles at a national scale.