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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  02 Nov 2020

02 Nov 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Key drivers of pyrogenic carbon redistribution during a simulated rainfall event

Severin-Luca Bellè1, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe2, Frank Hagedorn3, Cristina Santin4,5, Marcus Schiedung1, Ilja van Meerveld1, and Samuel Abiven1,6 Severin-Luca Bellè et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Merced, CA, USA
  • 3Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Switzerland
  • 4Department of Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea, UK
  • 5Unidad Mixta de Investigación en Biodiversidad, Oviedo University, Mieres, Spain
  • 6Laboratoire de Géologie, Département de Géosciences, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France

Abstract. Pyrogenic carbon (PyC) is produced by the incomplete combustion of vegetation during wildfires and is a major and persistent pool of the global carbon (C) cycle. However, its redistribution in the landscape after fires remains largely unknown. Therefore, we conducted rainfall simulation experiments on 0.25-m2 plots with two distinct Swiss forest soils (Cambisol (clay loam) and Luvisol (sandy silt)). We applied PyC produced from wood (Picea abies) labelled under FACE conditions and C4-grass (Miscanthus sinensis) to the soil surface to study PyC redistribution by runoff and splash, and the vertical mobility of PyC in a 10 cm unsaturated soil column based on the differences in δ13C of soils and PyC. We assessed the effect of soil texture, slope angle and PyC characteristics (feedstock and particle size) on the mobility of PyC during 30 minutes of intense rainfall (102 mm h−1). Our results highlight that PyC is highly mobile. Surface runoff transported between 0.2 to 36.0 % of the total added PyC. Erosion by splash further redistributed 10.3 to 25.3 % of the added PyC. Soil type had a substantial impact on the redistribution of PyC by both runoff and splash: on average, we recovered 10.5 % of the added PyC in runoff and splashed material for the clay-rich Cambisol and 61.3 % of the added PyC for the sandy silt Luvisol combined. PyC feedstock had a clear, but contrasting effect on PyC redistribution: relocation in the runoff and splashed material was greater for wood-PyC (43.4 % of total added PyC) than grass-PyC (28.4 %). However, more wood-PyC (11.5 %; fraction of organic C derived from the PyC) remained where it was initially applied compared to grass-PyC (7.4 %). The results further suggest that the effect of PyC characteristics on its mobility can be highly variable and depend not only on the material from which it was derived, but also on other factors (e.g. particle size, porosity, density). In particular, the mobility of PyC was almost twice as large for fine-grained PyC (< 63 µm) than for coarse PyC (63 µm – 2 mm). Vertical mobility of PyC up to 10 cm depth was greater in the clay-rich, well-aggregated Cambisol, but limited in the physically instable Luvisol, likely due to quick aggregate breakdown and surface sealing. The addition of PyC to the surface of the studied soils further induced changes in the export of native soil organic carbon (nSOC) in the same order of magnitude as the PyC flux after the 30 minutes rainfall event. Our study shows that large quantities of PyC can be redistributed by water erosion over short timescales, and that the mobility of PyC depends to a great extent on the response of soils to rainfall. Moreover, the addition and redistribution of PyC affects the export of nSOC, and thus the C budget of fire-affected soils and catchments.

Severin-Luca Bellè et al.

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Severin-Luca Bellè et al.

Severin-Luca Bellè et al.


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Latest update: 25 Nov 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Controls of pyrogenic carbon (PyC) redistribution under rainfall are largely unknown. However, PyC mobility can be substantial after initial rain in post-fire landscapes. We conducted a controlled simulation experiment on plots where PyC was applied on the soil surface. We identified redistribution of PyC by runoff and splash, and vertical movement in the soil depending on soil texture and PyC characteristics (material and size). PyC also induced changes in exports of native soil organic carbon.
Controls of pyrogenic carbon (PyC) redistribution under rainfall are largely unknown. However,...