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Preliminary assessment of carbon and nitrogen sequestration potential of wildfire-derived sediments stored by erosion control structures in forest ecosystems, southwest USA

March 30, 2021

The role of pyrogenic carbon (PyC) in the global carbon cycle is still incompletely characterized. Much work has been done to characterize PyC on landforms and in soils where it originates or in “terminal” reservoirs such as marine sediments. Less is known about intermediate reservoirs such as streams and rivers, and few studies have characterized hillslope and in-stream erosion control structures (ECS) designed to capture soils and sediments destabilized by wildfire. In this preliminary study, organic carbon (OC), total nitrogen (N), and stable isotope parameters, δ13C and δ15N, were compared to assess opportunities for carbon and nitrogen sequestration in postwildfire sediments (fluvents) deposited upgradient of ECS in ephemeral- and intermittent-stream channels. The variability of OC, N, δ13C, and δ15N were analyzed in conjunction with fire history, age of captured sediments, topographic position, and land cover. Comparison of samples in 2 watersheds indicates higher OC and N in ECS with more recently captured sediments located downstream of areas with higher burn severity. This is likely a consequence of (1) higher burn severity causing greater runoff, erosion, and transport of OC (organic matter) to ECS and (2) greater cumulative loss of OC and N in older sediments stored behind older ECS. In addition, C/N, δ13C, and δ15N results suggest that organic matter in sediments stored at older ECS are enriched in microbially processed biomass relative to those at newer ECS. We conservatively estimated the potential mean annual capture of OC by ECS, using values from the watershed with lower levels of OC, to be 3 to 4 metric tons, with a total potential storage of 293 to 368 metric tons in a watershed of 7.7 km2 and total area of 2000 ECS estimated at 2.6 ha (203-255 metric tons/ha). We extrapolated the OC results to the regional level (southwest USA) to estimate the potential for carbon sequestration using these practices. We estimated a potential of 0.01 Pg, which is significant in terms of ecosystem services and regional efforts to promote carbon storage.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Preliminary assessment of carbon and nitrogen sequestration potential of wildfire-derived sediments stored by erosion control structures in forest ecosystems, southwest USA
DOI 10.1177/11786221211001768
Authors James B. Callegary, Laura M. Norman, Christopher J. Eastoe, Joel B. Sankey, Ann Youberg
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Air, Soil and Water Research
Series Number
Index ID 70222116
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center