Partial mitigation of global warming caused by accelerated emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide may be possible by storing atmospheric carbon in soils. Carbon storage is influenced by processes and properties that affect soil aggregation, such as clay and silt concentrations and mineralogy, intensity and frequency of wet/dry cycles, and microbial activity. Microbial activity, in turn, is influenced by factors such as temperature, nutrient and water availability, and residue quality. The objective of this study was to assess the influence of average annual maximum temperature on soil carbon storage in Vertosols under cotton-based farming systems. This paper reports a re-evaluation of results obtained from a series of experiments on cotton-farming systems conducted in eastern Australia between 1993 and 2010. The experimental sites were in the Macquarie and Namoi Valleys of New South Wales, and the Darling Downs and Central Highlands of Queensland.
Average soil organic carbon storage in the 0–0.6 m depth was highest in a Black Vertosol in Central Queensland and lowest in a Grey Vertosol that was irrigated with treated sewage effluent at Narrabri. At other sites, average values were generally comparable and ranged from 65 to 85 t C/ha. Climatic parameters such as ambient maximum temperature, Tmax, and rainfall at rainfed sites (but not irrigated sites) were also related to soil organic carbon storage. At most sites, variations in carbon storage with average ambient maximum temperature were described by Gaussian models or bell-shaped curves, which are characteristic of microbial decomposition. Carbon storage occurred at peak rates only for a very limited temperature range at any one site, with these temperatures increasing with decreasing distance from the equator. The exception was a site near Narrabri that was irrigated with treated sewage effluent, where the relationship between soil organic carbon and Tmax was linear. The decrease or absence of change in soil carbon storage with time reported in many Australian studies of annual cropping systems may be due to carbon storage occurring within a limited temperature range, whereas intra-seasonal average maximum temperatures can range widely. Further research needs to be conducted under field conditions to confirm these observations.