Higher soil acidification risk in southeastern Tibetan Plateau

Qiongyu Zhang, Qiufeng Wang, Jianxing Zhu, Li Xu, Mingxu Li, Zed Rengel, Jingfeng Xiao, Erik A. Hobbie, Shilong Piao, Wentao Luo, Nianpeng He

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Stable soil pH is a key property in maintaining an ecosystem's structure, function, and sustainability. Increasing atmospheric deposition and grassland use on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) may increase the soil acidification risk, but we lack such information to date. Here, we evaluated the soil acidification risk in the TP, by comparing it with that in the Mongolia Plateau (MP) and applying the acid–base balance principles on atmospheric inputs, soils, and plants from 1980 to 2019. Cumulative acid input was lower in the TP than in the MP. Sulfur contributed more to acidity than nitrogen and atmospheric deposition contributed more to acidity than grassland use. Acid input was mainly influenced by local industry, animal husbandry and transportation in the MP, while in the TP it was also affected by the long-distance transportation of pollutants from South Asia and southern China. Overall, the TP was less acid-sensitive than the MP because of higher inorganic carbon content. However, soils in the southeastern TP, covering 21% of the total area, were acid-sensitive due to low levels of soil exchangeable base cation (EBCs) and lack of calcium carbonate. Coincidentally, the southeastern region has the highest concentration of acid input in the TP due to more rapid development and stronger influence of adjacent high acid deposition regions than others. Therefore, the acidification risk to the southeastern region is much higher than to other regions of the TP and the MP; in this region, the EBCs are likely to be depleted approximately 95 years earlier than in the MP. The findings of this study provide insights into the response of the TP to global change. For the ecosystem sustainability of southeastern TP, control of atmospheric acid deposition, especially sulfur deposition, in both local and adjacent regions and nations is required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number143372
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPart 2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2021


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