Nocturnal soil CO2 uptake and its relationship to subsurface soil and ecosystem carbon fluxes in a Chihuahuan Desert shrubland

Erik P. Hamerlynck, Russell L. Scott, Enrique P. Sánchez-Cañete, Greg A. Barron-Gafford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Despite their prevalence, little attention has been given to quantifying arid land soil and ecosystem carbon fluxes over prolonged, annually occurring dry periods. We measured soil [CO2] profiles and fluxes (F s) along with volumetric soil moisture and temperature in bare interplant canopy soils and in soils under plant canopies over a three-month hot and dry period in a Chihuahuan Desert shrubland. Nocturnal Fs was frequently negative (from the atmosphere into the soil), a form of inorganic carbon exchange infrequently observed in other deserts. Negative Fs depended on air-soil temperature gradients and were more frequent and stronger in intercanopy soils. Daily integrated ecosystem-level Fs was always positive despite lower daily Fs in intercanopy soils due to nocturnal uptake and more limited positive response to isolated rains. Subsurface [CO2] profiles associated with negative Fs indicated that sustained carbonate dissolution lowered shallow-soil [CO2] below atmospheric levels. In the morning, positive surface Fs started earlier and increased faster than shallow-soil Fs, which was bidirectional, with upward flux toward the surface and downward flux into deeper soils. These dynamics are consistent with carbonate precipitation in conjunction with convection-assisted CO2 outgassing from warming air and soil temperatures and produced a pronounced diurnal Fs temperature hysteresis. We concluded that abiotic nocturnal soil CO2 uptake, through a small carbon sink, modulates dry season ecosystem-level carbon dynamics. Moreover, these abiotic carbon dynamics may be affected by future higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and predictions of more prolonged and regular hot and dry periods. Keypoints Desert soils had temperature gradient-dependent nocturnal carbon dioxide uptake Shallow subsurface soil carbon dioxide fluxes were sometimes bidirectional Inorganic carbon dynamics showed clockwise diurnal temperature hysteresis

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1593-1603
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • carbonate dynamics
  • climate
  • desert soils
  • drought
  • soil respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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