Climate variation and soil carbon and nitrogen cycling processes in a northern hardwood forest

Peter M. Groffman, Janet P. Hardy, Melany C. Fisk, Timothy J. Fahey, Charles T. Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


We exploited the natural climate gradient in the northern hardwood forest at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) to evaluate the effects of climate variation similar to what is predicted to occur with global warming over the next 50-100 years for northeastern North America on soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycle processes. Our objectives were to (1) characterize differences in soil temperature, moisture and frost associated with elevation at the HBEF and (2) evaluate variation in total soil (TSR) and microbial respiration, N mineralization, nitrification, denitrification, nitrous oxide (N2O) flux, and methane (CH4) uptake along this gradient. Low elevation sites were consistently warmer (1.5-2.5°C) and drier than high elevation sites. Despite higher temperatures, low elevation plots had less snow and more soil frost than high elevation plots. Net N mineralization and nitrification were slower in warmer, low elevation plots, in both summer and winter. In summer, this pattern was driven by lower soil moisture in warmer soils and in winter the pattern was linked to less snow and more soil freezing in warmer soils. These data suggest that N cycling and supply to plants in northern hardwood ecosystems will be reduced in a warmer climate due to changes in both winter and summer conditions. TSR was consistently faster in the warmer, low elevation plots. N cycling processes appeared to be more sensitive to variation in soil moisture induced by climate variation, whereas C cycling processes appeared to be more strongly influenced by temperature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-943
Number of pages17
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Climate change
  • Methane
  • Mineralization
  • Nitrification
  • Nitrous oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Climate variation and soil carbon and nitrogen cycling processes in a northern hardwood forest'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this