Articles | Volume 4, issue 3
27 Jun 2007
27 Jun 2007

Mobility of black carbon in drained peatland soils

J. Leifeld, S. Fenner, and M. Müller

Abstract. Amount, stability, and distribution of black carbon (BC) were studied at four sites of a large peatland ("Witzwil") formerly used as a disposal for combustion residues from households to derive BC displacement rates in the profile. Possible artefacts from thermal oxidation with Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) on BC quantification of C-rich deposits were inferred by choosing three sites from a second peatland with no historical record of waste disposal as a reference ("Seebodenalp"). All sites were under grassland at time of sampling, but were partially cropped in the past at Witzwil. Mean BC contents in topsoils of Witzwil ranged from 10.7 to 91.5 (0–30 cm) and from 0.44 to 51.3 (30–140 cm) mg BC g−1 soil, corresponding to BC/OC ratios of 0.04 to 0.3 (topsoil) and 0.02 to 0.18 (deeper soil). At three sites of Seebodenalp, BC was below the detection limit of 0.4 mg g−1 organic soil, indicating negligible formation of BC during thermal oxidation of peat. 13C NMR spectra corroborated the high BC contents at Witzwil. The data support a considerable vertical transport of BC given that soils were ploughed not deeper than 30 cm since abandonment of waste application about 50 years ago. The total amount of BC in the Witzwil profiles ranged from 3.2 to 7.5 kg BC m−2, with 21 to 69 percent of it stemming from below the former ploughing depth. Under the premise of negligible rates of BC consumption since abandonment of waste application, minimum BC transport rates in these peats are 0.6 to 1.2 cm a−1. The high mobility of BC might be explained by high macro-pore volumes in combination with occasional water saturation. By means of DSC peak temperatures, different types of BC could be distinguished, with deeper horizons containing BC of higher thermal stability. Application of combustion residues likely involved a mixture of various BC types, of which thermally more stable ones, most likely soots, were preferentially transported downwards.

Final-revised paper