Research over the past several decades has clarified the mechanisms and timescales involved in stabilizing organic matter in soils, but we still lack process-based understanding sufficient for predicting how vulnerable soil carbon (C) is, given climatic or environmental change across a range of soil types and landscapes. Part of the problem is the emphasis on short-term studies and processes that dominate C balance at the point or soil profile scale, whereas other processes that dominate over longer timescales and larger spatial scales may actually be more important for determining the carbon balance of soils in a region. Radiocarbon is one of the only tools to study the dynamics of C in soils on decadal to millennial timescales. It provides a means for directly testing models of organic matter dynamics in ecosystems and, when measured in respired CO or dissolved organic carbon (DOC), provides evidence of shifts in microbial metabolism. This review explores the application of this underutilized tool, with an emphasis on conceptual advances made using the state-factor approach and on detecting processes causing abrupt change in soil C stores.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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