Organic matter composition and stabilization in a polygonal tundra soil of the Lena Delta
Abstract. This study investigated soil organic matter (OM) composition of differently stabilized soil OM fractions in the active layer of a polygonal tundra soil in the Lena Delta, Russia, by applying density and particle size fractionation combined with qualitative OM analysis using solid state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and lipid analysis combined with 14C analysis. Bulk soil OM was mainly composed of plant-derived, little-decomposed material with surprisingly high and strongly increasing apparent 14C ages with active layer depth suggesting slow microbial OM transformation in cold climate. Most soil organic carbon was stored in clay and fine-silt fractions (< 6.3 μm), which were composed of little-decomposed plant material, indicated by the dominance of long n-alkane and n-fatty acid compounds and low alkyl/O-alkyl C ratios. Organo-mineral associations, which are suggested to be a key mechanism of OM stabilization in temperate soils, seem to be less important in the active layer as the mainly plant-derived clay- and fine-silt-sized OM was surprisingly "young", with 14C contents similar to the bulk soil values. Furthermore, these fractions contained less organic carbon compared to density fractionated OM occluded in soil aggregates – a further important OM stabilization mechanism in temperate soils restricting accessibility of microorganisms. This process seems to be important at greater active layer depth where particulate OM, occluded in soil aggregates, was "older" than free particulate OM.