Three-Dimensional Modeling of the Coevolution of Landscape and Soil Organic Carbon

Qina Yan, Phong V.V. Le, Dong K. Woo, Tingyu Hou, Timothy Filley, Praveen Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil organic carbon (SOC) is going through rapid reorganization due to anthropogenic influences. Understanding how biogeochemical transformation and erosion-induced SOC redistribution influence SOC profiles and stocks is critical to our food security and adaptation to climate change. The important roles of erosion and deposition on SOC dynamics have drawn increasing attention in the past decades, but quantifying such dynamics is still challenging. Here we develop a process-based quasi 3-D model that couples surface runoff, soil moisture dynamics, biogeochemical transformation, and landscape evolution. We apply this model to a subcatchment in Iowa to understand how natural forcing and farming practices affect the SOC dynamics in the critical zone. The net soil thickness and SOC stock change rates are −0.336 (mm/yr) and −1.9 (g C/m 2 /year), respectively. Our model shows that in a fast transport landscape, SOC transport is the dominant control on SOC dynamics compared to biogeochemical transformation. The SOC profiles have “noses” below the surface at depositional sites, which are consistent with cores sampled at the same site. Generally, erosional sites are local net atmospheric carbon sinks and vice versa for depositional sites, but exceptions exist as seen in the simulation results. Furthermore, the mechanical soil mixing arising from tillage enhances SOC stock at erosional sites and reduces it at depositional ones. This study not only helps us understand the evolution of SOC stock and profiles in a watershed but can also serve as an instrument to develop practical means for protecting carbon loss due to human activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalWater Resources Research
StatePublished - 2019


  • 3-D modeling
  • anthropogenic influence
  • biogeochemical transformation
  • critical zone
  • landscape evolution
  • soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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