Comparison of Piedmont Clay Complexity and Carbon and Nitrogen Release at Various Temperature Intensities through Simulated Wildfires

Monday, 15 December 2014
Taylor Davis and Scott P Werts, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC, United States
Past research indicates that clay chemistry of soil can be altered below ground following a wildfire. Higher intensity burns can alter the pre-existing clay types and transform it into another. By contemplating the composition of a soil before a wildfire starts, it is possible to determine the outcomes and negative impacts of the burned soil at various temperatures, including possible emissions of carbon and nitrogen. Through evaluating different soil samples using the Rigaku Miniflex 600 XRD powder x-ray diffractometer, the clay composition of each sample was determined to be either in the kaolinite grouping, which is a less complex structure, or in the smectite, mica, or vermiculite groupings, which are more complex structures. After examination of field data using the Costech Elemental Combustion System for elemental analysis, a trend was found that as clay complexity increases in the individual horizons, the release of carbon and nitrogen from the soil also increases versus the other less complex horizons. It can be suggested that areas holding more complex clay mineral structures have the capacity to release more carbon and nitrogen into the atmosphere when burned at higher temperatures and intensities. Using this information, it is possible to indicate those areas holding more complex clay minerals and put further protection or emphasis on ensuring their exposure to wildfire is lessened. In turn, this will reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gases released into the surrounding environment in the event of future uncontrolled wildfires.