Peat decomposition records in three pristine ombrotrophic bogs in southern Patagonia
Abstract. Ombrotrophic bogs in southern Patagonia have been examined with regard to paleoclimatic and geochemical research questions but knowledge about organic matter decomposition in these bogs is limited. Therefore, we examined peat humification with depth by Fourier Transformed Infrared (FTIR) measurements of solid peat, C/N ratio, and δ13C and δ15N isotope measurements in three bog sites. Peat decomposition generally increased with depth but distinct small scale variation occurred, reflecting fluctuations in factors controlling decomposition. C/N ratios varied mostly between 40 and 120 and were significantly correlated (R2 > 0.55, p < 0.01) with FTIR-derived humification indices. The degree of decomposition was lowest at a site presently dominated by Sphagnum mosses. The peat was most strongly decomposed at the driest site, where currently peat-forming vegetation produced less refractory organic material, possibly due to fertilizing effects of high sea spray deposition. Decomposition of peat was also advanced near ash layers, suggesting a stimulation of decomposition by ash deposition. Values of δ13C were 26.5 ± 2‰ in the peat and partly related to decomposition indices, while δ15N in the peat varied around zero and did not consistently relate to any decomposition index. Concentrations of DOM partly related to C/N ratios, partly to FTIR derived indices. They were not conclusively linked to the decomposition degree of the peat. DOM was enriched in 13C and in 15N relative to the solid phase probably due to multiple microbial modifications and recycling of N in these N-poor environments. In summary, the depth profiles of C/N ratios, δ13C values, and FTIR spectra seemed to reflect changes in environmental conditions affecting decomposition, such as bog wetness, but were dominated by site specific factors, and are further influenced by ash deposition and possibly by sea spray input.