Linking watershed terrain and hydrology to soil chemical properties, microbial communities and impacts on soil organic C in a humid mid-latitude forested watershed

Thursday, 18 December 2014
David B Watson1, Scott C Brooks1, Christopher W Schadt1, Guoping Tang2, Nathan Collier1, Jennifer e Earles2, Tonia l Mehlhorn2, Kenneth a Lowe2, Craig c Brandt2, Zamin koo Yang2, Debra Phillips3, Pengsong Li4 and Fengming Yuan5, (1)Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, United States, (2)Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge, TN, United States, (3)Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, (4)Peking University, Beijing, China, (5)ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN, United States
Understanding the response of humid mid-latitude forests to changes in precipitation, temperature, nutrient cycling, and disturbance is critical to improving our predictive understanding of changes in the surface-subsurface energy balance due to climate change. Mechanistic understanding of the effects of long-term and transient moisture conditions are needed to quantify linkages between changing redox conditions, microbial activity, and soil mineral and nutrient interactions on C cycling and greenhouse gas releases. To illuminate relationships between the soil chemistry, microbial communities and organic C we established transects across hydraulic and topographic gradients in a small watershed with transient moisture conditions. Valley bottoms tend to be more frequently saturated than ridge tops and side slopes which generally are only saturated when shallow storm flow zones are active. Fifty shallow (~36”) soil cores were collected during timeframes representative of low CO2, soil winter conditions and high CO2, soil summer conditions. Cores were subdivided into 240 samples based on pedology and analyses of the geochemical (moisture content, metals, pH, Fe species, N, C, CEC, AEC) and microbial (16S rRNA gene amplification with Illumina MiSeq sequencing) characteristics were conducted and correlated to watershed terrain and hydrology. To associate microbial metabolic activity with greenhouse gas emissions we installed 17 soil gas probes, collected gas samples for 16 months and analyzed them for CO2 and other fixed and greenhouse gasses. Parallel to the experimental efforts our data is being used to support hydrobiogeochemical process modeling by coupling the Community Land Model (CLM) with a subsurface process model (PFLOTRAN) to simulate processes and interactions from the molecular to watershed scales. Including above ground processes (biogeophysics, hydrology, and vegetation dynamics), CLM provides mechanistic water, energy, and organic matter inputs to the surface/subsurface models, in which coupled biogeochemical reaction networks are used to improve the representation of below-ground processes. Preliminary results suggest that inclusion of above ground processes from CLM greatly improves the prediction of moisture response and water cycle at the watershed scale.