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Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics

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Two thirds of the carbon in the terrestrial biosphere is stored in soil, primarily as decayed organic material. Carbon cycles rapidly between the atmosphere and soil as CO2, and soils, depending on how they are managed, represent an important source or sink of CO2 to the atmosphere. There is concern that soils are increasingly becoming a CO2 source as the climate warms and as land-use change results in increased soil disturbance. Nitrogen is a macronutrient that is often limiting to plant growth in temperate ecosystems, although it may be a pollutant in aquatic ecosystems and drinking water. It is rapidly cycled in soil as organic matter is broken down by decomposer microorganisms. Nitrogen is also artificially added to soil via the application of synthetic fertilizers or through atmospheric pollution (i.e., nitrogen deposition). High levels of nitrogen addition can lead to forest decline and reduced water quality.

By monitoring soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics, we are assessing how different experimental manipulations (e.g., warming, N fertilization, invasive plant species) alter the ability of the soil to store and cycle these nutrients. Specific analyses include total organic C & N (amount of organic matter stored in the soil), soil respiration (amount of C leaving the soil), and nitrogen dynamics (e.g., amount of nitrogen made available for plant and soil organism use; amount of nitrogen leaving the soil through leaching or gaseous loss).

Related Data & Publications

Publications - Published papers from Harvard Forest research related to soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics.

Datasets - Data and metadata for soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics research at the Forest.

Abstracts for Current Research - Summaries of ongoing carbon and nitrogen dynamics research at the Forest.