Chemical composition of young and old carbon pools throughout Cambisol and Luvisol profiles under forests

Ingo Schöning, Ingrid Kögel-Knabner

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91 Scopus citations


The long-term storage of soil organic matter (SOM) in forest soils is still poorly understood. In this study, particle size fractionation in combination with accelerator mass spectroscopy (AMS) and solid state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy was applied to investigate organic carbon (OC) stabilisation in Cambisol and Luvisol profiles under spruce (Picea abies) and beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forests. In most samples, OC was preferentially associated with <2 μm fractions. Throughout soil profiles the contribution of OC in the clay fraction to the total OC increased from 27%-53% in A horizons to 44-86% in E, B and EB horizons. The 200-2000 μm fractions from all sites and all depths showed a percentage of modern C (pmC)>100. They were enriched in 14C owing to high inputs of recent material from leaves and roots. Clearly less active material was associated with <2 and 2-20 μm fractions. This demonstrated that the particle size fractionation procedure applied to our study was capable to isolate a young OC fraction in all samples. The pmC values were strongly decreasing with depth but the decrease was much more pronounced in the fine fractions. The <2 and 2-20 μm fractions of B, E and EB horizons revealed radiocarbon ages between 512 and 4745 years before present which indicated that the SOM in those horizons was little affected by the recent vegetation. The major components of labile and stable SOM pools in topsoils and subsoils were always O/N-alkyl C (28-53%) and alkyl C (14-48%) compounds. NMR spectra of bulk soils and particle size fractions indicated that high alkyl C and O/N-alkyl C proportions throughout the soil profile are typical of Cambisols and Luvisols which were not subjected to regular burning. A relation between radiocarbon age and chemical composition throughout soil profiles was not observed. This suggests that the long-term stabilisation of SOM is mainly controlled by the existence of various mechanisms of protection offered by the soil matrix and soil minerals but not by the chemical structure of SOM itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2411-2424
Number of pages14
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • AMS
  • Particle size fractionation
  • Radiocarbon age
  • SOM
  • Stabilisation
  • Subsoil


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