Spatial and temporal variation in podzol organic matter studied by pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and micromorphology

P. Buurman, P.F. van Bergen, A.G. Jongmans, E.L. Meijer, B. Duran, B. van Lagen

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A well-developed podzol hydrosequence that has been partially covered with drift sand, and partially subjected to improved drainage, provides new insights into the causes of variation in soil organic matter chemistry in such soils. While E horizons invariably move towards a dominance of aliphatic components reflecting residual accumulation, the chemistry of organic matter in well-drained B horizons is determined mainly by decaying roots, which are transformed by microorganisms to humus aggregates. In poorly drained, stratified B horizons, humus coatings dominate and the chemistry is very close to that of dissolved organic carbon. When a sand cover inhibits the supply of fresh litter, microbial decomposition in the A horizon causes a shift in chemistry towards that of the E horizon. Similarly, upon improved drainage and removal of complexed metals from the top of the B horizon, microbial decomposition of all palatable organic matter in the top of the B horizon causes a shift towards E-horizon chemistry. This is probably the mechanism by which most E horizons in podzols are formed, and not by re-solution. Marked chemical changes upon improved drainage may take only decades. During microbial decay, small polysaccharide-derived pyrolysis products (mainly furans, furaldehydes and acetic acid) remain abundant due to the contribution of microbial sugars. Both micromorphology and factor analysis on quantified results of pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry contribute significantly to the interpretation of the humus chemistry of these profiles and thus to our understanding of soil genesis. Organic chemistry of the investigated podzols can be understood only in the context of their genesis
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-270
JournalEuropean Journal of Soil Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • rothamsted classical experiments
  • incipient podzols
  • acid environment
  • soils
  • horizons
  • biodegradation
  • pedogenesis
  • vegetation
  • complexes
  • sediments

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