Shifts in pore connectivity from precipitation versus groundwater rewetting increases soil carbon loss after drought
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Droughts and other extreme precipitation events are predicted to increase in intensity, duration, and extent, with uncertain implications for terrestrial carbon (C) sequestration. Soil wetting from above (precipitation) results in a characteristically different pattern of pore-filling than wetting from below (groundwater), with larger, well-connected pores filling before finer pore spaces, unlike groundwater rise in which capillary forces saturate the finest pores first. Here we demonstrate that pore-scale wetting patterns interact with antecedent soil moisture conditions to alter pore-scale, core-scale, and field-scale C dynamics. Drought legacy and wetting direction are perhaps more important determinants of short-term C mineralization than current soil moisture content in these soils. Our results highlight that microbial access to C is not solely limited by physical protection, but also by drought or wetting-induced shifts in hydrologic connectivity. We argue that models should treat soil moisture within a three-dimensional framework emphasizing hydrologic conduits for C and resource diffusion.
author list (cited authors)
Smith, A. P., Bond-Lamberty, B., Benscoter, B. W., Tfaily, M. M., Hinkle, C. R., Liu, C., & Bailey, V. L.