Simulation of soil carbon dynamics under sugarcane with the CENTURY model

Currently there is a trend for the expansion of the area cropped with sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.), driven by an increase in the world demand for biofuels, due to economical, environmental, and geopolitical issues. Although sugarcane is traditionally harvested by burning dried leaves and tops, the unburned, mechanized harvest has been progressively adopted. The use of process based models is useful in understanding the effects of plant litter in soil C dynamics. The objective of this work was to use the CENTURY model in evaluating the effect of sugarcane residue management in the temporal dynamics of soil C. The approach taken in this work was to parameterize the CENTURY model for the sugarcane crop, to simulate the temporal dynamics of soil C, validating the model through field experiment data, and finally to make predictions in the long term regarding soil C. The main focus of this work was the comparison of soil C stocks between the burned and unburned litter management systems, but the effect of mineral fertilizer and organic residue applications were also evaluated. The simulations were performed with data from experiments with different durations, from 1 to 60 yr, in Goiana and Timbaúba, Pernambuco, and Pradópolis, São Paulo, all in Brazil; and Mount Edgecombe, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. It was possible to simulate the temporal dynamics of soil C (R2 = 0.89). The predictions made with the model revealed that there is, in the long term, a trend for higher soil C stocks with the unburned management. This increase is conditioned by factors such as climate, soil texture, time of adoption of the unburned system, and N fertilizer management.

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