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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Soil organic carbon Stabilization Charcoal Radiocarbon Fractions 

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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

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