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The trajectory of soil development and its relationship to soil carbon dynamics

August 13, 2021

It has been postulated that the amount of soil organic carbon (SOC) associated with soil minerals exhibits a threshold relationship in response to effective soil moisture (estimated as precipitation less evapotranspiration). To better characterize the role of moisture in influencing mechanisms of SOC storage during pedogenesis, we compare soils from two different chronosequence sites: the Santa Cruz and Mattole River marine terraces that together form a soil age-by-climate gradient (i.e., climo-chronosequence). Our results demonstrate how variation in the effective soil moisture may drive soil development along divergent pedogenic trajectories, resulting in variations in the form and depth distribution of secondary weathering products. In particular, the residual metals Fe and Al are directly related to the type of secondary minerals that accumulate during weathering, and these variations are coupled to differences in the storage and long-term preservation of SOC both within and between soils. Over time, these differences in soil development may lead to ‘pedogenic thresholds’ that further differentiate soil characteristics and influence SOC dynamics. In this case, the pedogenic threshold takes the form of clay-rich argillic horizons that once formed, inhibit aqueous transport, decouple shallow and deep soil environments, and potentially limit SOC inputs and increase microbial recycling in deep soils. Our data suggest argillic horizon development is favorable in the drier Santa Cruz soils, where kaolinite is the dominant secondary weathering product. In contrast, greater available moisture in soils of the Mattole chronosequence drive a different weathering trajectory characterized by the accumulation of more amorphous secondary minerals. As a result, the Mattole soils and do not exhibit argillic horizon development but are instead characterized by greater accumulation of SOC across all depths sampled. Overall, our results illustrate how the interaction of climate (i.e., moisture) and time may shape the trajectory of soil development and the dynamics of SOC storage and preservation.

    Publication Year 2021
    Title The trajectory of soil development and its relationship to soil carbon dynamics
    DOI 10.1016/j.geoderma.2021.115378
    Authors Corey Lawrence, Marjorie S. Schulz, Caroline Masiello, Oliver A. Chadwick, Jennifer W. Harden
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Geoderma
    Index ID 70224988
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center; Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center; Volcano Science Center