Characterization of solid and dissolved carbon in a spruce-fir spodosol

K'o H. Dai, Mark B. David, George F. Vance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Organic substances are an integral part of the biogeochemistry of many elements in forest ecosystems. However, our understanding of the composition, chemistry, and reactions of these materials are incomplete and sometimes inconsistent. Therefore, we examined in detail dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in forest floor leachates over a two-year period (19921993), soil C, and DOC adsorption by a mineral soil to determine the relationship between soil solid and solution C characteristics in a spruce-fir ecosystem. The structural composition of DOC, DOC fractions (hydrophobic and hydrophilic acids, hydrophilic neutrals), and soil samples from the organic and mineral horizons were also analyzed using 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Total DOC in forest floor leachates ranged from 7.8 to 13.8 mmol L-1 with an average of 8.6 mmol L-1. Concentrations were highest in September of both 1992 and 1993. Fractionation of the forest floor DOC indicated these solutions contained high organic acid contents that averaged 92% of the total DOC. Hydrophobic acids were also preferentially adsorbed by the B horizon. The 13C NMR data suggested alkyl, carbohydrate, aromatic, and carboxylic C were the primary constituents for organic and mineral soils, DOC, and DOC fractions. Compositional changes of C were observed as aromatic and carbohydrate decreased, whereas alkyl, methoxy, and carbonyl moieties increased with depth. However, C composition changed little among the three organic layers based on the similarity of alkyl/carbohydrates ratios as determined from NMR area integration, suggesting that in this acid soil, decomposition proceeds rather slowly. Hydrophobic acids contained high contents of aromatic C, whereas hydrophilic acids were comprised primarily of carboxylic C. Hydrophilic neutrals were rich in carbohydrate C. Results indicated that these DOC fractions were unaltered during the isolation process. Carboxylic C groups appeared to dissolve easily and were probably the primary contributor to organic acidity in our organic dominate leachates. Results also suggested that DOC materials adsorbed on the B horizon underwent further biodegradation. Several seasonal patterns of C composition were observed in the forest floor leachates and DOC fractions collected between 1992 and 1993. Overall, the evidence from this study suggested that (i) DOC levels were mainly controlled by biological activity, (ii) forest floor DOC was comprised primarily of organic acids, (iii) contact of soil leachates with B horizon material affected DOC quantitatively and qualitatively, (iv) phenolic, carboxylic, and carbonyl C appeared to dissolve readily in the forest Oa horizon, (v) DOC materials adsorbed on the B horizon selectively underwent further decomposition, and (vi) C composition is a function of the extent of decomposition and DOC fractions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-365
Number of pages27
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996


  • DOC
  • adsorption
  • forest floor leachates
  • hydrophilic acids
  • hydrophobic acids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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