Weathering controls on mechanisms of carbon storage in grassland soils
On a sequence of soils developed under similar vegetation, temperature, and precipitation conditions, but with variations in mineralogical properties, we use organic carbon and 14C inventories to examine mineral protection of soil organic carbon. In these soils, 14C data indicate that the creation of slow-cycling carbon can be modeled as occurring through reaction of organic ligands with Al3+ and Fe3+ cations in the upper horizons, followed by sorption to amorphous inorganic Al compounds at depth. Only one of these processes, the chelation of Al3+ and Fe3+ by organic ligands, is linked to large carbon stocks. Organic ligands stabilized by this process traverse the soil column as dissolved organic carbon (both from surface horizons and root exudates). At our moist grassland site, this chelation and transport process is very strongly correlated with the storage and long-term stabilization of soil organic carbon. Our 14C results show that the mechanisms of organic carbon transport and storage at this site follow a classic model previously believed to only be significant in a single soil order (Spodosols), and closely related to the presence of forests. The presence of this process in the grassland Alfisol, Inceptisol, and Mollisol soils of this chronosequence suggests that this process is a more significant control on organic carbon storage than previously thought.