Studies relating macro- and microscopic aspects of impacts of long-term contaminative practices on soils are scarce. We performed such an approach by assessing the fate of metal pollutants in an area close to Paris, where sandy Luvisols were irrigated for 100 years with urban waste water. As a result, these soils display strong accumulation of organic matter, dissolved salts and metal pollutants in surface horizons, but also migration of metals to depth. We examined soil development and metal distribution patterns in two irrigated soils, in comparison with a non-irrigated reference soil. Soil macromorphological characteristics were studied in the field. Soil micromorphology and micro-scale metal distributions were both studied in situ in thin sections, the latter by synchrotron X-ray mapping. Microscopic study focussed on characteristic parts of the Ap and Bt horizons, mainly involved in metal retention. For Ap horizons, both large and diffuse metal concentrations were revealed, mainly associated with organic matter and dissolved components added by irrigation water. For Bt horizons, zinc accumulation was detected on clay-iron coatings. Our results suggest that with time, a double metal-filtering capacity has developed in these sandy Luvisols: in the Ap horizon, an anthropogenic filter resulted from input of metal pollutants together with highly reactive organic matter, carbonates and phosphates, thus favouring metal immobilization and limiting migration to depth. In the Bt horizon, the evidence is of a second, natural filter. However, this filtering capacity is endangered by clay destruction due to ferrolysis, as revealed by micromorphology. Ferrolysis, here initiated by intensive irrigation practices, leads to a reduction of the natural filtering potential and an increasing risk of metal transfer towards the groundwater.
- earthworm activity
- arable land