Wildfire is a significant global control on both ecosystem properties and biogeochemical cycling, and wildfires are projected to increase in both size and severity with continued climate change. Post-fire, charred biomass, or pyrogenic carbon, is left behind as a significant, relatively slow-cycling component of the soil organic matter pool. Pyrogenic carbon has a turnover time on the centennial scale, and previous research has demonstrated that it is highly susceptible to erosion. However, the interaction of the roles of landform position and combustion temperature remains unexplored. We collected live Pinus jeffreyi bark and charred it under combustion conditions at three temperatures (200°C, 350°C, and 500°C). The charred bark was mixed with soil collected from both eroding and depositional landform positions and incubated for six months. Throughout this incubation, microbial respiration was monitored via collection of CO2, and cumulative respiration was fitted using both single- and multi-pool exponential models. Overall, respiration was highest in soil and char mixtures in the depositional landform positions. Pyrogenic carbon concentrations, as determined by the Kurth Mackenzie Deluca method, declined only slightly in the 200°C char mixed with the depositional soil. Scanning electron microscopy images of the chars before and after incubation illustrate some incorporation of soil organic matter into the structures of the char, and some breakdown of the physical structures of the char. Altogether, the lower temperature chars mixed with the soil from the depositional landform position had the highest decomposition rates, which suggests the role that landform position may play on the stability of pyrogenic carbon at the landscape scale. Furthermore, this implies that the post-fire erosional re-distribution of pyrogenic carbon may act as a significant control of its long-term stabilization in soil and landscape-scale soil carbon stocks.
Abney, R.; Jin, L.; Berhe, A.A. (2017): Landform position and charring conditions control decomposition of soil organic matter and pyrogenic carbon. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2017. Abstract B22D-05..