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Modelling study of soil C, N and pH response to air pollution and climate change using European LTER site observations

This study used meteorological and soil solution data collected at two ECN forest sites (Wytham and Alice Holt) and over 20 other long-term research sites in a Europe-wide modelling study. The work was done in the EU H2020 eLTER project.
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Holmberg, M., Aherne, J., Austnes, K., Beloica, J., De Marco, A., Dirnböck, T., Fornasier, MF., Goergen, K., Futter, M., Lindroos, A-J., Krám, P., Neirynck, J., Nieminen, TM., Pecka, T., Posch, M., Pröll, G., Rowe, EC., Scheuschner, T., Schlutow, A., Valinia, S. and Forsius, M. (2018). Modelling study of soil C, N and pH response to air pollution and climate change using European LTER site observations. Science of the Total Environment, 640-641, 387-399.

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Current climate warming is expected to continue in coming decades, whereas high N deposition may stabilize, in contrast to the clear decrease in S deposition. These pressures have distinctive regional patterns and their resulting impact on soil conditions is modified by local site characteristics. We have applied the VSD+ soil dynamic model to study impacts of deposition and climate change on soil properties, using MetHyd and GrowUp as pre-processors to provide input to VSD+. The single-layer soil model VSD+ accounts for processes of organic C and N turnover, as well as charge and mass balances of elements, cation exchange and base cation weathering. We calibrated VSD+ at 26 ecosystem study sites throughout Europe using observed conditions, and simulated key soil properties: soil solution pH (pH), soil base saturation (BS) and soil organic carbon and nitrogen ratio (C:N) under projected deposition of N and S, and climate warming until 2100. The sites are forested, located in the Mediterranean, forested alpine, Atlantic, continental and boreal regions. They represent the long-term ecological research (LTER) Europe network, including sites of the ICP Forests and ICP Integrated Monitoring (IM) programmes under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), providing high quality long-term data on ecosystem response. Simulated future soil conditions improved under projected decrease in deposition and current climate conditions: higher pH, BS and C:N at 21, 16 and 12 of the sites, respectively. When climate change was included in the scenario analysis, the variability of the results increased. Climate warming resulted in higher simulated pH in most cases, and higher BS and C:N in roughly half of the cases. Especially the increase in C:N was more marked with climate warming. The study illustrates the value of LTER sites for applying models to predict soil responses to multiple environmental changes.