Usefulness of the carbon-13 tracer technique for characterizing terrestrial carbon pools

R. Liu, C. E. Clapp, H H Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Application of the carbon-13 (13C) tracer technique to soil organic carbon emission is relatively new to many researchers and only a few results have been reported to date. This mini-review paper cites some well-documented research in organic carbon pool studies using the 13C tracer technique. The 13C abundance in soil usually remains at a stable level under a set of natural conditions. Variations in 13C reflect different sources and types of organic components from natural environments. An important feature of 13C discrimination in the soil C pool has permitted researchers to assess the dynamic nature of the pool. This discrimination may reflect a selective preference at early stage of residue decomposition by soil microbes. Crop rotation and residue input to humic substances can change the 13C abundance, which is a possible way to estimate soil C emission. However, the dynamic relationship between 13C abundance in the soil C pool and C emission is still in an early stage of development. Restrictions due to requirement of long-term experiments and duration of vegetation changes may affect its wide-spread adoptions in C emission studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-266
Number of pages6
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Dec 1 1997


  • C abundance
  • C discrimination
  • Soil organic carbon

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