Effect of almond shell biochar addition on the hydro-physical properties of an arable Central Valley soil

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Vivian Lopez, University of California Merced, Merced, CA, United States and Teamrat A Ghezzehei, Univ. of California, Merced, Merced, CA, United States
Biochar is composed of any carbonaceous matter pyrolyzed under low oxygen exposure. Its use as a soil amendment to address soil infertility has been accelerated by studies reporting positive effects of enhanced nutrient retention, cation exchange capacity, microbial activity, and vegetative growth over time. Biochar has also been considered as a carbon sequestration method because of its reported environmental persistence. While the aforementioned effects are positive benefits of biochar’s use, its impact on soil physical properties and water flow are equally important in maintaining soil fertility. This study aims to show how soil physical and hydraulic properties change over time with biochar addition. To address these aims, we conducted a 9 week microcosm incubation experiment with local arable loamy sand soils amended with biochar. Biochar was created from locally collected almond shells and differs by pyrolysis temperatures (350°C, 700°C) and size (<250 μm, 1-2mm). Additionally, biochar was applied to soil at a low (10 t/ha) or high (60 t/ha) rates. Changes in soil water flow properties were analyzed by infiltration or pressure cell experiments immediately after creating our soil-biochar mixtures. These experiments were repeated during and after the incubation period to observe if and how flow is altered over time. Following incubation and hydraulic experiments, a water drop penetration time (WDPT) test was conducted to observe any alterations in surface hydrophobicity. Changes in soil physical properties were analyzed by determining content of water stable aggregates remaining after wet sieving. This series of experiments is expected to provide a greater understanding on the impact biochar addition on soil physical and hydraulic properties. Furthermore, it provides insight into whether or not converting local agricultural waste into biochar for soil use will be beneficial, especially in agricultural systems undergoing climate stress.