Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 1015–1026 | Cite as

Environmental and site factors controlling the vertical distribution and radiocarbon ages of organic carbon in a sandy soil

  • Eleanor Hobley
  • Garry R. Willgoose
  • Silvia Frisia
  • Geraldine Jacobsen
Original Paper


Soil organic carbon (SOC) content and radiocarbon concentration were measured in three particle-size fractions and charcoal fragments at four depths to bedrock in a sandy soil from SE Australia. SOC content declined with depth for all fractions. The enrichment factors of SOC showed that the finest particles are most important for SOC storage throughout the soil profile, and their importance for SOC storage increased with depth. In the topsoil, all particle-size fractions contained modern SOC. In contrast, charcoal from this depth gave radiocarbon ages of 85–165 years Before Present (BP). This difference was more pronounced at 30–60 cm, where the charcoal was dated at 2,540 years BP, over 12 times as old as the youngest fraction at that depth. These results confirm charcoal as a highly stable form of SOC. The radiocarbon data in the topsoil and near bedrock indicate that neither microaggregation nor mineral association is important for SOC stability in this soil. At intermediate sampling depths, the mid-sized fraction was the oldest. We believe that this is the result of charcoal accumulation in this fraction, inducing a shift in radiocarbon age. However, near bedrock (100–120 cm), radiocarbon concentration did not differ significantly between fractions, despite greater SOC retention in smaller fractions. In addition, radiocarbon ages at 100–120 cm indicate that charcoal is not present at this depth. We propose that environmental and soil conditions (substrate limitation, water and oxygen availability, and temperature) are responsible for the stabilization of SOC at this depth, where SOC concentrations were very low (0.1–0.3 %). Our results demonstrate that, although fine particles retain more SOC than coarse ones, they do not stabilize SOC in this sandy soil. Instead, environmental (bushfires and climate) and site factors (soil texture and soil mineralogy) control the distribution and stability of SOC throughout the soil profile.


Soil organic carbon Stabilization Charcoal Radiocarbon Fractions 


  1. Abiven S, Andreoli R (2011) Charcoal does not change the decomposition rate of mixed litters in a mineral cambisol: a controlled conditions study. Biol Fertil Soils 47:111–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arrouays D, Pelissier P (1994) Modeling carbon storage profiles in temperate forest humic loamy soils in France. Soil Sci 157:185–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (2012) Climate statistics for Taralga Post Office and Goulburn Airport. Available at
  4. Baldock JA, Skjemstad JO (2000) Role of the soil matrix and minerals in protecting natural organic materials against biological attack. Org Geochem 31:697–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Batjes NH (1996) Total carbon and nitrogen in the soils of the world. Eur J Soil Sci 47:151–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bernoux M, Arrouays D, Cerri C, Bourennane H (1998) Modeling vertical distribution of carbon in oxisols of the western Brazilian Amazon (Rondonia). Soil Sci 163:941–951CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bird MI, Ascough PL (2012) Isotopes in pyrogenic carbon: a review. Org Geochem 42:1529–1539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blagodatskaya Е, Kuzyakov Y (2008) Mechanisms of real and apparent priming effects and their dependence on soil microbial biomass and community structure: critical review. Biol Fertil Soils 45:115–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bol R, Poirier N, Balesdent J, Gleixner G (2009) Molecular turnover time of soil organic matter in particle-size fractions of an arable soil. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 23:2551–2558PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Capriel P, Harter P, Stephenson D (1992) Influence of management on the organic matter of a mineral soil. Soil Sci 153:122–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fierer N, Schimel JP (2003) A proposed mechanism for the pulse in carbon dioxide production commonly observed following the rapid rewetting of a dry soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 67:798–805CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fink D, Hotchkis M, Hua Q, Jacobsen G, Smith AM, Zoppi U, Child D, Mifsud C, van der Gaast H, Williams A, Williams M (2004) The ANTARES AMS facility at ANSTO. Nucl Instrum Methods Phys Res Sect B Beam Interactions Mater Atoms 223–224:109–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Golchin A, Oades JM, Skjemstad JO, Clarke P (1994) Soil structure and carbon cycling. Aust J Soil Res 32:1043–1068CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hua Q, Jacobsen G, Zoppi U, Lawson E, Williams A, McGann M (2001) Progress in radiocarbon target preparation at the ANTARES AMS Centre. Radiocarbon 43:275–282Google Scholar
  15. Jastrow JD, Miller RM (1996) Carbon dynamics of aggregate-associated organic matter estimated by carbon-13 natural abundance. Soil Sci Soc Am J 60:801–807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jennings JN, James JM, Montgomery NR (1982) The development of the landscape. In: Dyson HJ, Ellis R, James JM (eds) Wombeyan caves. The Sydney Speleological Society, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  17. Jobbagy EG, Jackson RB (2000) The vertical distribution of soil organic carbon and its relation to climate and vegetation. Ecol Appl 10:423–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kaiser K, Kaupenjohann M, Zech W (2001) Sorption of dissolved organic carbon in soils: effects of soil sample storage, soil-to-solution ratio, and temperature. Geoderma 99:317–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kaiser K, Eusterhues K, Rumpel C, Guggenberger G, Kögel-Knabner I (2002) Stabilization of organic matter by soil minerals—investigations of density and particle-size fractions from two acid forest soils. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 165:451–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Krull ES, Baldock JA, Skjemstad JO (2003) Importance of mechanisms and processes of the stabilisation of soil organic matter for modelling carbon turnover. Funct Plant Biol 30:207–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Krull ES, Swanston CW, Skjemstad JO, McGowan JA (2006) Importance of charcoal in determining the age and chemistry of organic carbon in surface soils. J Geophys Res 111:G04001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lehmann J, Kinyangi J, Solomon D (2007) Organic matter stabilization in soil microaggregates: implications from spatial heterogeneity of organic carbon contents and carbon forms. Biogeochemistry 85:45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Leifeld J, Kögel-Knabner I (2003) Microaggregates in agricultural soils and their size distribution determined by X-ray attenuation. Eur J Soil Sci 54:167–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Marschner B, Brodowski S, Dreves A, Gleixner G, Gude A, Grootes PM, Hamer U, Heim A, Jandl G, Ji R, Kaiser K, Kalbitz K, Kramer C, Leinweber P, Rethemeyer J, Schäffer A, Schmidt MWI, Schwark L, Wiesenberg GLB (2008) How relevant is recalcitrance for the stabilization of organic matter in soils? J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 171:91–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Michaelis L, Menten M (1913) Die kinetik der invertinwirkung. Biochem Ztg 49:333–369Google Scholar
  26. Oades J (1984) Soil organic matter and structural stability: mechanisms and implications for management. Plant Soil 76:319–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Oades JM (1988) The retention of organic matter in soils. Biogeochemistry 5:35–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Post WM, Emanuel WR, Zinke PJ, Stangenberger AG (1982) Soil carbon pools and world life zones. Nature 298:156–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rayment GE, Higginson FR (1992) Australian laboratory handbook of soil and water chemical methods. Inkata, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  30. Rumpel C, Kögel-Knabner I, Bruhn F (2002) Vertical distribution, age, and chemical composition of organic carbon in two forest soils of different pedogenesis. Org Geochem 33:1131–1142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schmidt M, Torn M, Abiven S, Dittmar T, Guggenberger G, Janssens I, Kleber M, Kögel-Knabner I, Lehmann J, Manning D, Nannipieri P, Rasse D, Weiner S, Trumbore S (2011) Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property. Nature 478:49–56PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Six J, Bossuyt H, Degryze S, Denef K (2004) A history of research on the link between (micro)aggregates, soil biota, and soil organic matter dynamics. Soil Tillage Res 79:7–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Skjemstad JO, Clarke P, Taylor JA, Oades JM, Mcclure SG (1996) The chemistry and nature of protected carbon in soil. Aust J Soil Res 34:251–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Skjemstad JO, Krull ES, Swift RS, Szarvas S (2008) Mechanisms of protection of soil organic matter under pasture following clearing of rainforest on an Oxisol. Geoderma 143:231–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith P, Martino D, Cai Z, Gwary D, Janzen H, Kumar P, McCarl B, Ogle S, O’Mara F, Rice C, Scholes B, Sirotenko O (eds) (2007) Agriculture in: Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Sollins P, Swanston C, Kleber M, Filley T, Kramer M, Crow S, Caldwell BA, Lajtha K, Bowden R (2006) Organic C and N stabilization in a forest soil: evidence from sequential density fractionation. Soil Biol Biochem 38:3313–3324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Standards Australia (2009) AS1289.3.6.1: soil classification tests—determination of the particle size distribution of a soil—standard method of analysis by sieving. Methods of testing soils for engineering purposes. Standards Australia, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  38. Tisdall JM, Oades JM (1982) Organic matter and water-stable aggregates in soils. J Soil Sci 33:141–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Trumbore S (ed) (1996) Applications of accelerator mass spectrometry to soil science. Mass spectrometry of soils. Marcel Dekker, Inc., New YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Trumbore S (1997) Potential responses of soil organic carbon to global environmental change. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 94:8284–8291PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Trumbore S (2009) Radiocarbon and soil carbon dynamics. Ann Rev Earth Planet Sci 37:47–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Trumbore SE, Vogel JS, Southon JR (1989) AMS 14C measurements of fractionated soil organic matter; an approach to deciphering the soil carbon cycle. Radiocarbon 31:644–654Google Scholar
  43. Xu M, Lou Y, Sun X, Wang W, Baniyamuddin M, Zhao K (2011) Soil organic carbon active fractions as early indicators for total carbon change under straw incorporation. Biol Fertil Soils 47:745–752CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eleanor Hobley
    • 1
    • 2
  • Garry R. Willgoose
    • 1
  • Silvia Frisia
    • 2
  • Geraldine Jacobsen
    • 3
  1. 1.School of EngineeringThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.School of Environmental and Life SciencesThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental ResearchAustralian Nuclear Science and Technology OrganizationLucas HeightsAustralia

Personalised recommendations