Subsurface Carbon Cycling Below the Root Zone
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Carbon in the subsurface below the root zone is an important yet poorly understood link in the terrestrial C cycle, interfacing between overlying soil and downstream aquatic systems. Thus, the nature and behavior of C in the vadose zone and groundwater, particularly the dynamics of mobile dissolved and suspended aqueous species, need to be understood for predicting C cycling and responses to climate change. This study is designed to understand the C balance (influxes, effluxes, and sequestration) and mechanisms controlling subsurface organic and inorganic C transport and transformation. Our initial investigations are being conducted at the Rifle Site floodplain along the Colorado River, in Colorado (USA). Within this floodplain, sediment samples were collected and sampling/monitoring instruments were installed down to 7 m depth at three sites. Pore water and gas samplers at 0.5 m depth intervals within the ~3.5 m deep vadose zone, and multilevel aquifer samplers have yielded depth- and time-resolved profiles of dissolved and suspended organic and inorganic C, and CO2 for over 1.5 years. Analyses conducted to determine seasonally and vertically resolved geochemical profiles show that dissolved organic matter (DOM) characteristics vary among three distinct hydrobiogeochemical zones; the vadose zone, capillary fringe, and saturated zone. The concentrations of dissolved organic matter (DOM) are many times higher in the vadose zone and the capillary fringe than in groundwater, and vary seasonally. The DOM speciation, aqueous geochemistry, solid phase analyses, and d13C isotope data show the importance of both biotic and abiotic C transformations during transport through the vertical gradients of moisture and temperature. In addition to DOM, suspended organic C and bacteria have been collected from samplers within the capillary fringe. Based on the field-based findings, long-term laboratory column experiments are being conducted under simulated field moisture, temperature, and geochemical conditions in order to gain more quantitative understanding of the C balance within different hydrobiogeochemical zones.