Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol:109 issue:47 pages:19492-19497
Carbon exchange associated with accelerated erosion following land cover change is an important component of the global C cycle. In current assessments, however, this component is not accounted for. Here, we integrate the effects of accelerated C erosion across point, hillslope, and catchment scale for the 780-km2 Dijle River catchment over the period 4000 B.C. to A.D. 2000 to demonstrate that accelerated erosion results in a net C sink. We found this long-term C sink to be equivalent to 43% of the eroded C and to have offset 39% (17–66%) of the C emissions due to anthropogenic land cover change since the advent of agriculture. Nevertheless, the erosion-induced C sink strength is limited by a significant loss of buried C in terrestrial depositional stores, which lagged the burial. The time lag between burial and subsequent loss at this study site implies that the C buried in eroded terrestrial deposits during the agricultural expansion of the last 150 y cannot be assumed to be inert to further destabilization, and indeed might become a significant C source. Our analysis exemplifies that accounting for the non–steady-state C dynamics in geomorphic active systems is pertinent to understanding both past and future anthropogenic global change.