Integrating soil carbon cycling with that of nitrogen and phosphorus in the watershed model SWAT: Theory and model testing

Armen R. Kemanian, Stefan Julich, Valipuram S. Manoranjan, Jeffrey R. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


In this paper we describe and test a sub-model that integrates the cycling of carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in the Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) watershed model. The core of the sub-model is a multi-layer, one-pool soil organic carbon (SC) algorithm, in which the decomposition rate of SC and input rate to SC (through decomposition and humification of residues) depend on the current size of SC. The organic N and P fluxes are coupled to that of C and depend on the available mineral N and P, and the C:N and N:P ratios of the decomposing pools. Tillage explicitly affects the soil organic matter turnover rate through tool-specific coefficients. Unlike most models, the turnover of soil organic matter does not follow first order kinetics. Each soil layer has a specific maximum capacity to accumulate C or C saturation (Sx) that depends on texture and controls the turnover rate. It is shown in an analytical solution that Sx is a parameter with major influence in the model C dynamics. Testing with a 65-yr data set from the dryland wheat growing region in Oregon shows that the model adequately simulates the SC dynamics in the topsoil (top 0.3m) for three different treatments. Three key model parameters, the optimal decomposition and humification rates and a factor controlling the effect of soil moisture and temperature on the decomposition rate, showed low uncertainty as determined by generalized likelihood uncertainty estimation. Nonetheless, the parameter set that provided accurate simulations in the topsoil tended to overestimate SC in the subsoil, suggesting that a mechanism that expresses at depth might not be represented in the current sub-model structure. The explicit integration of C, N, and P fluxes allows for a more cohesive simulation of nutrient cycling in the SWAT model. The sub-model has to be tested in forestland and rangeland in addition to agricultural land, and in diverse soils with extreme properties such high or low pH, an organic horizon, or volcanic soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1913-1921
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 24 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecological Modeling


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