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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences eTheses
Title: The Nature, Distribution and Significance of Organic Carbon within Structurally Intact Soils Contrasting in Total SOC Content.
Author(s): Smith, Katie Elizabeth
Supervisor(s): Wilson, Clare
Keywords: Soil Organic Carbon
Soil Structure
Issue Date: Sep-2010
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Soil structure influences many chemical, biological and physical processes and it is well established that organic carbon acts as a soil binding agent. However, the precise location of organic matter and carbon in relation to structural features within intact samples is unknown. The sensitivity of organic carbon to decomposition is dependent not only upon its intrinsic chemical recalcitrance, but also its location within the soil structure. Soil structure provides organic carbon with chemical and physical protection, the extent of which varies between structural units. Furthermore soil structure is transient, and is sensitive to both environmental changes and physical disturbance, therefore it is difficult to determine and quantify the impact of this dynamic entity upon the storage of organic carbon. To date the majority of research that has advanced our understanding of the role soil structure plays in the storage of organic carbon, has relied upon some form of fractionation technique to separate aggregates from the bulk soil. However this approach has its disadvantages as much of the soil structure is destroyed; clearly when studying the impact of soil structure upon organic carbon-storage it is advantageous to implement any method that minimises disturbance to the soil structure. This study entails removing intact soil samples (through the use of kubiena tins) from long-term agricultural experimental fields at Rothamsted Research, (Hertfordshire, UK) with the aim of comparing and evaluating the location of organic matter and it’s associated organic carbon, in soils with contrasting organic carbon contents and a well documented land-use history. Thin sections will be analysed by integrating conventional micromorphology, image analysis and sub-microscopy combined with microscale chemical analysis scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS). In doing so a new alternative method for analysing the distribution of organic matter and organic carbon is proposed. It was found that agricultural soils, which are the same in all aspects except total-OC content, differ in total organic matter, water release characteristics, aggregate stability and pore size distribution; therefore these differences could be attributed to the relationship between OC and soil structure. The water release curve, aggregate stability and pore size distribution also differed between soils with similar OC-contents but from different land-uses. The analysis of organic matter within intact soil samples provided evidence for the redistribution of organic matter as it is decomposed within the soil structure, for instance, less decomposed organ and tissue forms were located in or near to soil pores while more decomposed amorphous forms were located within the soil matrix. Since the same pattern of redistribution was observed in both agricultural and grassland soil this is likely to be directed by soil macro and micro fauna. It is concluded that since the location of different forms of organic matter is consistent across all soil, organic matter location is not responsible for creating differences in aggregate stability between treatments. Instead the results indicate that the amount and strength of organic carbon bonds and its hydrophobic properties are responsible. Micromorphology results demonstrated an absence of defined aggregation between treatments. Despite the difficulties in the interpretation of aggregation, the results contradict theories of aggregation, which state that aggregates are formed around “fresh” organic matter and it is argued that OM will undergo substantial decomposition before it acts as core for aggregation. Initial SEM-EDS analysis, has shown that in the soil matrix adjacent to organic matter (plant/organ) fragments there is a heightened concentration of C, indicating that these fragments are acting as a source of organic carbon. Interestingly BC, which represent one of the most recalcitrant C forms is also acting as a source of C, although these initial results suggest to a lesser extent than more labile C-sources. This source of organic carbon could stimulate microbial activity thereby enhancing soil structural stability. Alternatively, the release of liable carbon into soil pores may represent one route by which labile carbon enters sub-soil horizons.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Biological and Environmental Sciences

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