Thursday, 18 December 2014
Helen S. K. Snell1,2, David Robinson1 and Andy J Midwood2, (1)University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, United Kingdom, (2)James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Measurements of δ13C of soil CO2 are used to partition the surface flux into autotrophic and heterotrophic components. Models predict that the δ13CO2 of the soil efflux is perturbed by non-steady state (NSS) diffusive conditions. These could be large enough to render δ13CO2 unsuitable for accurate flux partitioning. Field studies sometimes find correlations between efflux δ13CO2 and flux or temperature, or that efflux δ13CO2 is not correlated as expected with biological drivers. We tested whether NSS effects in semi-natural soil were comparable with those predicted. We compared chamber designs and their sensitivity to changes in efflux δ13CO2.

In a natural soil mesocosm, we controlled temperature to generate NSS conditions of CO2 production. We measured the δ13C of soil CO2 using in situ probes to sample the subsurface, and dynamic and forced-diffusion chambers to sample the surface efflux. Over eight hours we raised soil temperature by 4.5 OC to increase microbial respiration. Subsurface CO2 concentration doubled, surface efflux became 13C-depleted by 1 ‰ and subsurface CO2 became 13C-enriched by around 2 ‰. Opposite changes occurred when temperature was lowered and CO2 production was decreasing. Different chamber designs had inherent biases but all detected similar changes in efflux δ13CO2, which were comparable to those predicted. Measurements using dynamic chambers were more 13C-enriched than expected, probably due to advection of CO2 into the chamber.

In the mesocosm soil, δ13CO2 of both efflux and subsurface was determined by physical processes of CO2 production and diffusion. Steady state conditions are unlikely to prevail in the field, so spot measurements of δ13CO2 and assumptions based on the theoretical 4.4 ‰ diffusive fractionation will not be accurate for estimating source δ13CO2. Continuous measurements could be integrated over a period suitable to reduce the influence of transient NSS conditions. It will be difficult to disentangle biologically driven changes in soil δ13CO2 from physical controls, particularly as they occur on similar timescales and are driven by the same environmental variables, such as temperature, moisture and daylight.