Carbon Dioxide Production in Bedrock Beneath Soils Substantially Contributes to Forest Carbon Cycling

Alison K. Tune, Jennifer L. Druhan, Jia Wang, Philip C. Bennett, Daniella M. Rempe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soils are widely considered the primary terrestrial organic matter pool mediating carbon transactions with the atmosphere and groundwater. Because soils are both a host and a product of rhizosphere activity, they are thought to mark the location where photosynthetic fixation of carbon dioxide (CO2) is balanced by the oxidation of organic matter. However, in many terrestrial environments, the rhizosphere extends below soils and into fractured bedrock, and it is unknown if the resulting biological and hydrologic dynamics in bedrock have a significant impact on carbon cycling. Here we show substantial production of CO2 in weathered bedrock at 4–8 m below the thin soils (<0.5 m thick) of a Northern California forest using innovative monitoring technology for sampling gases and water in fractured rock. The deep CO2 production supports a persistent upward flux of CO2(g) year-round from bedrock to soil, constituting between 2% and 29% of the average daily CO2 efflux from the land surface. When water is rapidly transported across the fractured bedrock vadose zone, nearly 50% of the CO2 produced in the bedrock dissolves into water, promoting water-rock interaction and export of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) from the unsaturated zone to groundwater, constituting as much as 80% of the DIC exiting the hillslope. Such CO2 production in weathered bedrock is subject to unique moisture, temperature, biological, and mineralogical conditions which are currently missing from terrestrial carbon models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JG005795
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • carbon dioxide
  • critical zone
  • vadose zone
  • weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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