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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Long-term controls on soil organic carbon with depth and time: A case study from the Cowlitz River Chronosequence, WA USA

  • Author(s): Lawrence, CR
  • Harden, JW
  • Xu, X
  • Schulz, MS
  • Trumbore, SE
  • et al.

© 2015. Over timescales of soil development (millennia), the capacity of soils to stabilize soil organic carbon (SOC) is linked to soil development through changes in soil mineralogy and other soil properties. In this study, an extensive dataset of soil profile chemistry and mineralogy is compiled from the Cowlitz River Chronosequence (CRC), WA USA. The CRC soils range in age from 0.25 to 1200kyr, spanning a developmental gradient encompassing clear changes in soil mineralogy, chemistry, and surface area. Comparison of these and other metrics of soil development with SOC properties reveal several relationships that may be diagnostic of the long-term coupling of soil development and C cycling. Specifically, SOC content was significantly correlated with sodium pyrophosphate extractable metals emphasizing the relevance of organo-metal complexes in volcanic soils. The depth distributions of organo-metals and other secondary weathering products, including the kaolin and short-range order (SRO) minerals, support the so-called "binary composition" of volcanic soils. The formation of organo-metal complexes limits the accumulation of secondary minerals in shallow soils, whereas in deep soils with lower SOC content, secondary minerals accumulate. In the CRC soils, secondary minerals formed in deep soils (below 50cm) including smectite, allophane, Fe-oxides and dominated by the kaolin mineral halloysite. The abundance of halloysite was significantly correlated with bulk soil surface area and14C content (a proxy for the mean age of SOC), implying enhanced stability of C in deep soils. Allophane, an SRO mineral commonly associated with SOC storage, was not correlated with SOC content or14C values in CRC soils. We propose conceptual framework to describe these observations based on a general understanding of pedogenesis in volcanic soils, where SOC cycling is coupled with soil development through the formation of and fate of organo-metal or other mobile weathering products. This framework highlights interactions between SOC and soil development, which may be applicable to other soils where organic inputs interact with the products of chemical weathering.

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