Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2018, Vol. 10 Issue (2): 183-201    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-018-0051-9
Orginal Article     
Vertical distribution and storage of soil organic and inorganic carbon in a typical inland river basin, Northwest China
Fan YANG1,2, Laiming HUANG2,3, Renmin YANG1, Fei YANG1, Decheng LI1, Yuguo ZHAO1,2, Jinling YANG1, Feng LIU1, Ganlin ZHANG1,2,*()
1 State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China
2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
3 Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
Download: HTML     PDF(390KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


Knowledge of soil carbon (C) distribution and its relationship with the environment can improve our understanding of its biogeochemical cycling and help to establish sound regional models of C cycling. However, such knowledge is limited in environments with complex landscape configurations. In this study, we investigated the vertical distribution and storage of soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil inorganic carbon (SIC) in the 10 representative landscapes (alpine meadow, subalpine shrub and meadow, mountain grassland, mountain forest, typical steppe, desert steppe, Hexi Corridor oases cropland, Ruoshui River delta desert, Alxa Gobi desert, and sandy desert) with contrasting bioclimatic regimes in the Heihe River Basin, Northwest China. We also measured the 87Sr/86Sr ratio in soil carbonate to understand the sources of SIC because the ratio can be used as a proxy in calculating the contribution of pedogenic inorganic carbon (PIC) to total SIC. Our results showed that SOC contents generally decreased with increasing soil depth in all landscapes, while SIC contents exhibited more complicated variations along soil profiles in relation to pedogenic processes and parent materials at the various landscapes. There were significant differences of C stocks in the top meter among different landscapes, with SOC storage ranging from 0.82 kg C/m2 in sandy desert to 50.48 kg C/m2 in mountain forest and SIC storage ranging from 0.19 kg C/m2 in alpine meadow to 21.91 kg C/m2 in desert steppe. SIC contributed more than 75% of total C pool when SOC storage was lower than 10 kg C/m2, and the proportion of PIC to SIC was greater than 70% as calculated from Sr isotopic ratio, suggesting the critical role of PIC in the C budget of this region. The considerable variations of SOC and SIC in different landscapes were attributed to different pedogenic environments resulted from contrasting climatic regimes, parent materials and vegetation types. This study provides an evidence for a general trade-off pattern between SOC and SIC, showing the compensatory effects of environmental conditions (especially climate) on SOC and SIC formation in these landscapes. This is largely attributed to the fact that the overall decrease in temperature and increase in precipitation from arid deserts to alpine mountains simultaneously facilitate the accumulation of SOC and depletion of SIC.

Key wordsHeihe River Basin      arid ecosystem      soil landscape      pedogenesis      pedogenic carbonate      SOC      CaCO3     
Received: 20 August 2017      Published: 10 April 2018
Corresponding Authors:
About author:

The first and fourth authors contributed equally to this work.

Cite this article:

Fan YANG, Laiming HUANG, Renmin YANG, Fei YANG, Decheng LI, Yuguo ZHAO, Jinling YANG, Feng LIU, Ganlin ZHANG. Vertical distribution and storage of soil organic and inorganic carbon in a typical inland river basin, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 2018, 10(2): 183-201.

URL:     OR

[1] Batjes N H.1996. Total carbon and nitrogen in the soils of the world. European Journal of Soil Science, 47(2): 151-163.
[2] Baumann F, He J S, Schmidt K, et al.2009. Pedogenesis, permafrost, and soil moisture as controlling factors for soil nitrogen and carbon contents across the Tibetan Plateau. Global Change Biology, 15(12): 3001-3017.
[3] Bughio M A, Wang P L, Meng F Q, et al.2016. Neoformation of pedogenic carbonates by irrigation and fertilization and their contribution to carbon sequestration in soil. Geoderma, 262: 12-19.
[4] Chang R Y, Fu B J, Liu G H, et al.2012. The effects of afforestation on soil organic and inorganic carbon: a case study of the Loess Plateau of China. CATENA, 95(3): 145-152.
[5] Chang R Y, Wang G X, Fei R, et al.2015. Altitudinal change in distribution of soil carbon and nitrogen in Tibetan montane forests. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 79(5): 1455-1469.
[6] Chen J, Qiu G, Yang J D.1997. Sr isotopic composition of loess carbonate and identification of primary and secondary carbonates. Progress in Natural Science, 7(5): 590-593.
[7] Chen L F, He Z B, Du J, et al.2016. Patterns and environmental controls of soil organic carbon and total nitrogen in alpine ecosystems of northwestern China. CATENA, 137: 37-43.
[8] Cheng G D, Li X, Zhao W Z, et al.2014. Integrated study of the water-ecosystem-economy in the Heihe River Basin. National Science Review, 1(3): 413-428.
[9] Eswaran H, Van Den Berg E, Reich P F, et al. 1995. Global soil carbon resources. In: Lal R, Kimble J M, Levine E, et al. Soils and Global Change. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press, 27-43.
[10] Eswaran H, Reich P F, Kimble J M, et al.2000. Global carbon stocks. In: Lal R, Kimble J M, Eswaran H, et al. Global Climate Change and Pedogenic Carbonates. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press, 15-25.
[11] Gong Z T, et al.1999. Chinese Soil Taxonomy. Beijing: Science Press, 136. (in Chinese)
[12] IUSS Working Group.2014. World Reference Base for Soil Resources 2014: international soil classification system for naming soils and creating legends for soil maps. In: World Soil Resources Reports No. 106. FAO, Rome.
[13] Jobbágy E G, Jackson R B.2000. The vertical distribution of soil organic carbon and its relation to climate and vegetation. Ecological Applications, 10(2): 423-436.
[14] Kang E, Lu L, Xu Z.2007. Vegetation and carbon sequestration and their relation to water resources in an inland river basin of Northwest China. Journal of Environmental Management, 85(3): 702-710.
[15] Küster Y, Hetzel R, Krbetschek M, et al.2006. Holocene loess sedimentation along the Qilian Shan (China): significance for understanding the processes and timing of loess deposition. Quaternary Science Reviews, 25(1-2): 114-125.
[16] Lal R.2004a. Soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. Geoderma, 123(1-2): 1-22.
[17] Lal R.2004b. Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science, 304(5677): 1623-1627.
[18] Lal R.2004c. Carbon sequestration in dryland ecosystems. Environmental Management, 33(4): 528-544.
[19] Landi A, Mermut A R, Anderson D W.2003. Origin and rate of pedogenic carbonate accumulation in Saskatchewan soils, Canada. Geoderma, 117(1-2): 143-156.
[20] Li C F, Zhang C, Luo G P, et al.2015. Carbon stock and its responses to climate change in Central Asia. Global Change Biology, 21(5): 1951-1967.
[21] Li D F, Shao M A.2014. Soil organic carbon and influencing factors in different landscapes in an arid region of northwestern China. CATENA, 116: 95-104.
[22] Liu W G, Wei J, Cheng J M, et al.2014. Profile distribution of soil inorganic carbon along a chronosequence of grassland restoration on a 22-year scale in the Chinese Loess Plateau. CATENA, 121(7): 321-329.
[23] Liu W J, Chen S Y, Qin X, et al.2012. Storage, patterns, and control of soil organic carbon and nitrogen in the northeastern margin of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Environmental Research Letters, 7(3): 035401.
[24] Lü Y H, Ma Z M, Zhao Z J, et al.2014. Effects of land use change on soil carbon storage and water consumption in an oasis-desert ecotone. Environmental Management, 53(6): 1066-1076.
[25] Mi N, Wang S Q, Liu J Y, et al.2008. Soil inorganic carbon storage pattern in China. Global Change Biology, 14(10): 2380-2387.
[26] Monger H C, Martinez-Rios J J. 2000. Inorganic carbon sequestration in grazing lands. In: Follett R F, Kimble J M, Lal R. The Potential of U.S. Grazing Lands to Sequester Carbon and Mitigate the Greenhouse Effect. Boca Raton, FL, USA: Lewis Publisher, 87-118.
[27] Monger H C.2014. Soils as generators and sinks of inorganic carbon in geologic time. In: Hartemink A E, McSweeney K. Soil Carbon. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 27-36.
[28] Monger H C, Kraimer R A, Khresat S, et al.2015. Sequestration of inorganic carbon in soil and groundwater. Geology, 43(5): 375-378.
[29] Nelson D W, Sommers L E.1982. Total carbon, organic carbon, and organic matter. In: Page A L, Miller R H, Keeney D R. Methods of Soils Analysis. Part 2. Chemical and Microbiological Properties (2nd ed.). Madison, WI: American Society of Agronomy, 539-579.
[30] Ni J.2002. Carbon storage in grasslands of China. Journal of Arid Environments, 50(2): 205-218.
[31] Qin J, Ding T J, Wu J K, et al.2013. Understanding the impact of mountain landscapes on water balance in the upper Heihe River watershed in northwestern China. Journal of Arid Land, 5(3): 366-383.
[32] Scharpenseel H W, Mtimet A, Freytag J, et al.2000. Soil inorganic carbon and global change. In: Lal R, Kimble J M, Eswaran H, et al. Global Climate Change and Pedogenic Carbonates. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press, 27-42.
[33] Schlesinger W H.1997. Biogeochemistry: An Analysis of Global Change (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA, USA: Academic Press, 588.
[34] Schlesinger W H.2017. An evaluation of abiotic carbon sinks in deserts. Global Change Biology, 23(1): 25-27.
[35] Schoeneberger P J, Wysocki D A, Benham E C, et al.2012. Field Book for Describing and Sampling Soils, Version 3.0. Lincoln, NE: Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Soil Survey Center.
[36] Su Y Z, Wang J Q, Yang R, et al.2015. Soil texture controls vegetation biomass and organic carbon storage in arid desert grassland in the middle of Hexi Corridor region in Northwest China. Soil Research, 53(4): 366-376.
[37] Trumbore S E, Czimczik C I.2008. An uncertain future for soil carbon. Science, 321(5895): 1455-1456.
[38] Wang G X, Yao J Z, Luo L, et al.2004. Soil C and N content under evolving landscapes in an arid inland river basin of Northwest China. Landscape Ecology, 19(6): 621-629.
[39] Wang G X, Liu J Q, Kubota J, et al.2007. Effects of land-use changes on hydrological processes in the middle basin of the Heihe River, northwest China. Hydrological Processes, 21(10): 1370-1382.
[40] Wang J P, Wang X J, Zhang J, et al.2015. Soil organic and inorganic carbon and stable carbon isotopes in the Yanqi Basin of northwestern China. European Journal of Soil Science, 66(1): 95-103.
[41] Wang M, Su Y Z, Yang X.2014. Spatial distribution of soil organic carbon and its influencing factors in desert grasslands of the Hexi Corridor, northwest China. PLoS ONE, 9(4): e94652.
[42] Wang S Q, Huang M, Shao X M, et al.2004. Vertical distribution of soil organic carbon in China. Environmental Management, 33(Suppl.): S200-S209.
[43] Wang S Q, Yu G R, Zhao Q J, et al.2005. Spatial characteristics of soil organic carbon storage in China's croplands. Pedosphere, 15(4): 417-423.
[44] Wang X J, Wang J P, Xu M G, et al.2015. Carbon accumulation in arid croplands of northwest China: pedogenic carbonate exceeding organic carbon. Scientific Reports, 5: 11439.
[45] Wang Y G, Li Y, Ye X H, et al.2010. Profile storage of organic/inorganic carbon in soil: from forest to desert. Science of the Total Environment, 408(8): 1925-1931.
[46] Wang Z P, Han X G, Chang S X, et al.2013. Soil organic and inorganic carbon contents under various land uses across a transect of continental steppes in Inner Mongolia. CATENA, 109(10): 110-117.
[47] West L T, Drees L R, Wilding L P, et al.1988. Differentiation of pedogenic and lithogenic carbonate forms in Texas. Geoderma, 43(2-3): 271-287.
[48] Wu H B, Guo Z T, Peng C H.2003a. Distribution and storage of soil organic carbon in China. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 17(2): 1048, doi: 10.1029/2001GB001844.
[49] Wu H B, Guo Z T, Peng C H.2003b. Land use induced changes of organic carbon storage in soils of China. Global Change Biology, 9(3): 305-315.
[50] Wu H B, Guo Z T, Gao Q, et al.2009. Distribution of soil inorganic carbon storage and its changes due to agricultural land use activity in China. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 129(4): 413-421.
[51] Wynn J G, Bird M I, Vellen L, et al.2006. Continental-scale measurement of the soil organic carbon pool with climatic, edaphic, and biotic controls. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 20(1): GB1007.
[52] Yang F, Zhang G L, Yang J L, et al.2014. Organic matter controls of soil water retention in an alpine grassland and its significance for hydrological processes. Journal of Hydrology, 519: 3086-3093.
[53] Yang F, Huang L M, Rossiter D G, et al.2017. Evolution of loess-derived soil along a climatic toposequence in the Qilian Mountains, NE Tibetan Plateau. European Journal of Soil Science, 68(3): 270-280.
[54] Yang R M, Zhang G L, Liu F, et al.2016. Comparison of boosted regression tree and random forest models for mapping topsoil organic carbon concentration in an alpine ecosystem. Ecological Indicators, 60: 870-878.
[55] Yang Y H, Mohammat A, Feng J M, et al.2007. Storage, patterns and environmental controls of soil organic carbon in China. Biogeochemistry, 84(2): 131-141.
[56] Yang Y H, Fang J Y, Guo D L, et al.2010a. Vertical patterns of soil carbon, nitrogen and carbon: nitrogen stoichiometry in Tibetan grasslands. Biogeosciences Discussions, 7(1): 1-24.
[57] Yang Y H, Fang J Y, Ji C J, et al.2010b. Soil inorganic carbon stock in the Tibetan alpine grasslands. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 24(4): GB4022.
[58] Yang Y H, Fang J Y, Ma W H, et al.2010c. Soil carbon stock and its changes in northern China's grasslands from 1980s to 2000s. Global Change Biology, 16(11): 3036-3047.
[59] Yin D Q, Li X, Huang Y F, et al.2015. Identifying vegetation dynamics and sensitivities in response to water resources management in the Heihe River Basin in China. Advances in Meteorology, 2015: 861928.
[60] Yu D S, Shi X Z, Wang H J, et al.2007. Regional patterns of soil organic carbon stocks in China. Journal of Environmental Management, 85(3): 680-689.
[61] Zhang F, Wang X J, Guo T W, et al.2015. Soil organic and inorganic carbon in the loess profiles of Lanzhou area: implications of deep soils. CATENA, 126: 68-74.
[62] Zhang P P, Shao M A.2014. Spatial variability and stocks of soil organic carbon in the Gobi desert of Northwestern China. PLoS ONE, 9(4): e93584.
[63] Zhu M, Feng Q, Qin Y Y, et al.2017. Soil organic carbon as functions of slope aspects and soil depths in a semiarid alpine region of Northwest China. CATENA, 152: 94-102.
[1] BAI Miao, LI Zhanling, HUO Pengying, WANG Jiawen, LI Zhanjie. Propagation characteristics from meteorological drought to agricultural drought over the Heihe River Basin, Northwest China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(5): 523-544.
[2] Mohsen SHARAFATMANDRAD, Azam KHOSRAVI MASHIZI. Evaluation of restoration success in arid rangelands of Iran based on the variation of ecosystem services[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(11): 1290-1314.
[3] HAI Xuying, LI Jiwei, LIU Yulin, WU Jianzhao, LI Jianping, SHANGGUAN Zhouping, DENG Lei. Manipulated precipitation regulated carbon and phosphorus limitations of microbial metabolisms in a temperate grassland on the Loess Plateau, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(10): 1109-1123.
[4] Masoud BAZGIR, Reza OMIDIPOUR, Mehdi HEYDARI, Nasim ZAINALI, Masoud HAMIDI, Daniel C DEY. Prioritizing woody species for the rehabilitation of arid lands in western Iran based on soil properties and carbon sequestration[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(4): 640-652.
[5] LI Yue, WANG Jijun, HAN Xiaojia, GUO Mancai, CHENG Simin, QIAO Mei, ZHAO Xiaocui. Coupling between the Grain for Green Program and a household level-based agricultural eco-economic system in Ansai, Shaanxi Province of China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(2): 199-214.
[6] Bisheng WANG, Lili GAO, Weishui YU, Xueqin WEI, Jing LI, Shengping LI, Xiaojun SONG, Guopeng LIANG, Dianxiong CAI, Xueping WU. Distribution of soil aggregates and organic carbon in deep soil under long-term conservation tillage with residual retention in dryland[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(2): 241-254.
[7] Pingping XUE, Xuelai ZHAO, Yubao GAO, Xingdong HE. Phenotypic plasticity of Artemisia ordosica seedlings in response to different levels of calcium carbonate in soil[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(1): 58-65.
[8] Yang YU, Yuanyue PI, Xiang YU, Zhijie TA, Lingxiao SUN, DISSE Markus, Fanjiang ZENG, Yaoming LI, Xi CHEN, Ruide YU. Climate change, water resources and sustainable development in the arid and semi-arid lands of Central Asia in the past 30 years[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(1): 1-14.
[9] PORDEL Fatemeh, EBRAHIMI Ataollah, AZIZI Zahra. Canopy cover or remotely sensed vegetation index, explanatory variables of above-ground biomass in an arid rangeland, Iran[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2018, 10(5): 767-780.
[10] Yang YU, Xi CHEN, HUTTNER Philipp, HINNENTHAL Marie, BRIEDEN Andreas, Lingxiao SUN, DISSE Markus. Model based decision support system for land use changes and socio-economic assessments[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2018, 10(2): 169-182.
[11] SPAMPINATO Giovanni, M MUSARELLA Carmelo, CANO-ORTIZ Ana, SIGNORINO Giuseppe. Habitat, occurrence and conservation status of the Saharo-Macaronesian and Southern-Mediterranean element Fagonia cretica L. (Zygophyllaceae) in Italy[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2018, 10(1): 140-151.
[12] Huiling LU, Lihua ZHOU, Yong CHEN, Yiwei AN, Caixia HOU. Degree of coupling and coordination of eco-economic system and the influencing factors: a case study in Yanchi County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2017, 9(3): 446-457.
[13] Xin PAN, Yuanbo LIU, Xingwang FAN, Guojing GAN. Two energy balance closure approaches: applications and comparisons over an oasis-desert ecotone[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2017, 9(1): 51-64.
[14] WANG Yamin, FENG Qi, KANG Xingcheng. Tree-ring-based reconstruction of temperature variability (1445–2011) for the upper reaches of the Heihe River Basin, Northwest China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2016, 8(1): 60-76.
[15] ZHOU Zhengchao, ZHANG Xiaoyan, GAN Zhuoting. Changes in soil organic carbon and nitrogen after 26 years of farmland management on the Loess Plateau of China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2015, 7(6): 806-813.