Articles | Volume 11, issue 3
Biogeosciences, 11, 873–883, 2014
Biogeosciences, 11, 873–883, 2014

Research article 13 Feb 2014

Research article | 13 Feb 2014

The fate of buried organic carbon in colluvial soils: a long-term perspective

Z. Wang1, K. Van Oost2, A. Lang3, T. Quine4, W. Clymans1, R. Merckx1, B. Notebaert1, and G. Govers1 Z. Wang et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, K.U. Leuven, Heverlee, Belgium
  • 2Earth & Life Institute (TECLIM), Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 3School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
  • 4Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

Abstract. Colluvial soils are enriched in soil organic carbon (SOC) in comparison to the soils of upslope areas due to the deposition and progressive burial of SOC. This burial of SOC has important implications for the global carbon cycle, but the long-term dynamics of buried SOC remain poorly constrained. We addressed this issue by determining the SOC burial efficiency (i.e. the fraction of originally deposited SOC that is preserved in colluvial deposits) of buried SOC as well as the SOC stability in colluvial soils. We quantified the turnover rate of deposited SOC by establishing sediment and SOC burial chronologies. The SOC stability was derived from soil incubation experiments and the δ13C values of SOC. The C burial efficiency was found to decrease with time, reaching a constant ratio of approximately 17% by about 1000–1500 yr post-burial. This decrease is attributed to the increasing recalcitrance of the remaining buried SOC with time and a less favourable environment for SOC decomposition with increasing depth. Buried SOC in colluvial profiles was found to be more stable and degraded in comparison to SOC sampled at the same depth at a stable reference location. This is due to the preferential mineralisation of the labile fraction of the deposited SOC. Our study shows that SOC responds to burial over a centennial timescale; however, more insight into the factors controlling this response is required to fully understand how this timescale may vary, depending on specific conditions such as climate and depositional environment.

Final-revised paper