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Relief and calcium from gypsum as key factors for net inorganic carbon accumulation in soils of a semiarid Mediterranean environment


In semiarid environments, the total inorganic carbon (TIC) in soil may contribute to the total carbon (C) pool more than the total organic C pool (TOC), thus playing a key role in storing atmospheric CO2. However, due to the different origin pathways of soil carbonates, not all of the TIC pool can be accounted for CO2 sequestration. Indeed, the inorganic C can be accounted for a net sink of CO2 only when calcium (Ca2+) forming carbonates originate from non-carbonate minerals (atmogenic inorganic C, AIC). The aim of this study carried out in a gypsiferous area is to investigate the dissolution of Ca2+ that comes from gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O) in the formation of soil atmogenic carbonates and to quantify the different forms of inorganic C pools to understand their role in storing CO2 in comparison to the TOC pool. To this end, five soil profiles were studied along a hillslope in a gypsiferous afforested area. Soil samples were analysed to determine their main chemical properties, as well as Ca2+, Sr2+, and the 87/86Sr isotopes ratios in different soil fractions. Ca2+ that comes from gypsum, which contributes to the formation of atmogenic carbonates, ranged from 0% to 63%; the remaining percentage resulted from the parent material or other sources (e.g., aeolian dust). The distribution of Ca2+ in soils depended on the relief and the distance of the soils from gypsum outcrops. The accumulation of AIC in soil developed on Holocene deposits reached a maximum accumulation of 16 kg m−3 in the first meter of depth. The average Sr2+/Ca2+ ratio in primary carbonates was 0.333, whereas it was 0.192 in secondary carbonates, thus suggesting that different sources contribute to Ca2+ in both carbonate types. Consequently, the Sr2+/Ca2+ ratio of soil carbonates could be a useful indicator of the presence of secondary carbonates. Overall, results suggest that gypsum plays a key role in the net accumulation of inorganic C in the soil, contributing to store atmospheric CO2. Finally, considering that the AIC pool was lower than the organic C pool, the latter was by far the most important element in fixing atmospheric CO2 in the soils of the semiarid Mediterranean environment that were surveyed.