, Volume 89, Issue 2, pp 181–198 | Cite as

Dissolved organic carbon chemistry and dynamics in contrasting forest and grassland soils

  • Jonathan Sanderman
  • Jeffrey A. Baldock
  • Ronald Amundson
Original Paper


In this study, we examined changes in isotopic (13C and 14C) and spectroscopic (UV and 13C NMR) properties of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in relation to soil organic matter (SOM) to elucidate the sources and sinks of DOC as water percolates through the soils of two contrasting upland coastal California ecosystems—a redwood forest and a coastal prairie. Despite differences in the distribution of C stocks and litter chemistry at these two sites, we found similar shifts in DOC chemistry with soil depth. DOC concentrations dropped rapidly with increasing depth, with an accompanying decrease in the C:N ratio, an increase in the δ13C value and an decrease in specific UV adsorption. In the grassland soil, Δ14C values declined from current atmospheric values (+70‰) in the surface horizon to −75‰ at 100 cm. In the redwood soil, the Δ14C value of 111‰ in O horizon leachates was indicative of OM with a residence time of 8–10 yrs, with a decrease in Δ14C values to −80‰ at 100 cm. Solid-state CP/MAS 13C NMR spectra were generally most similar to highly humified OM, with a general decrease in the relative abundance of aromatic compounds and an increase in the alkyl C/O-alkyl C ratio with increasing depth. All of these trends are consistent with the shifts in SOM properties with increasing depth, which are interpreted to mean a shift from fresh plant material to older, highly altered OM. In this Mediterranean climate, we found distinct seasonal shifts in the quantity and composition of DOC found in soil solution during the winter rainy period that was also consistent with a shift from recent labile substrates to older, highly altered OM. These results fit in with a growing body of literature suggesting that the source of much of the DOC within mineral soils is the local soil OM, and the 14C data, in particular, indicate that DOC at depth is not simply the fraction of surficial leachates that have not been adsorbed or decomposed. Rather, exchange reactions with a portion of the more stabilized SOM pool exert the strongest control on both the concentration and composition of DOC found in these soils.


Carbon-14 Carbon-13 Dissolved organic carbon Dissolved organic matter NMR spectroscopy Soil organic matter Specific UV adsorption 



Alkyl C to O-alkyl C ratio


Aromatic C to O-alkyl C ratio


Cation exchange capacity


Caspar Creek


Cross polarization/magic angle spinning carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance


Dissolved organic carbon


Relative standard deviation


Reactive soil pool


Soil organic matter


Specific ultraviolet adsorption


Through fall


Tennessee Valley




Water-extractable organic matter



We thank K. Lohse for providing N data; E. Keppeler and the USFS Redwood Sciences Laboratory for access to and logistical support at Caspar Creek; the National Park Service for access to Tennessee Valley; M. Mangahas for assistance in the field; D. Harris and the UC Davis Stable Isotope facility for automated 13C measurements of DOC; and J. Southon and G. dos Santos at the Keck Center for Carbon Accelerator Mass Spectrometry for help with radiocarbon analyses. This work was funded with a grant to R. Amundson by the Kearney Foundation of Soil Science and by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to J. Sanderman.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Sanderman
    • 1
  • Jeffrey A. Baldock
    • 2
  • Ronald Amundson
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Ecosystem SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.CSIRO Land and WaterGlen OsmondAustralia

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