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JGR Biogeosciences

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Landslides -- Alaska


Landslides influence the global carbon (C) cycle by facilitating transfer of terrestrial C in biomass and soils to offshore depocenters and redistributing C within the landscape, affecting the terrestrial C reservoir itself. How landslides affect terrestrial C stocks is rarely quantified, so we derive a model that couples stochastic landslides with terrestrial C dynamics, calibrated to temperate rainforests in southeast Alaska, United States. Modeled landslides episodically transfer C from scars to deposits and destroy living biomass. After a landslide, total C stocks on the scar recover, while those on the deposit either increase (in the case of living biomass) or decrease while remaining higher than if no landslide had occurred (in the case of dead biomass and soil C). Specifically, modeling landslides in a 29.9 km 2 watershed at the observed rate of 0.004 landslides km −2 yr −1 decreases average living biomass C density by 0.9 tC ha −1 (a relative amount of 0.4%), increases dead biomass C by 0.3 tC ha −1 (0.6%), and increases soil C by 3.4 tC ha −1 (0.8%) relative to a base case with no landslides. The net effect is a small increase in total terrestrial C stocks of 2.8 tC ha −1 (0.4%). The size of this boost increases with landslide frequency, reaching 6.5% at a frequency of 0.1 landslides km −2 yr −1. If similar dynamics occur in other landslide-prone regions of the globe, landslides should be a net C sink and a natural buffer against increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, which are forecast to increase landslide-triggering precipitation events.


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