Soil Science Society of America

Estimating the impact of seawater on the production of soil water-extractable organic carbon

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The production of water-extractable organic carbon (WEOC) during arctic coastal erosion and permafrost degradation may contribute significantly to C fluxes under warming conditions, but it remains difficult to quantify. A tundra soil collected near Barrow, AK, was selected to evaluate the effects of soil pretreatments (oven drying vs. freeze drying) as well as extraction solutions (pure water vs. seawater) on WEOC yields. Both oven drying and freeze drying significantly increased WEOC release compared with the original moist soil samples; dried samples released, on average, 18% more WEOC than did original moist samples. Similar results were observed for the production of low-molecular-weight dissolved organic C. However, extractable OC released from different soil horizons exhibited differences in specific UV absorption, suggesting differences in WEOC quality. Furthermore, extractable OC yields were significantly less in samples extracted with seawater compared with those extracted with pure water, likely due to the effects of major ions on extractable OC flocculation. Compared with samples from the active horizons, upper permafrost samples released more WEOC, suggesting that continuously frozen samples were more sensitive than samples that had experienced more drying–wetting cycles in nature. Specific UV absorption of seawater-extracted OC was significantly lower than that of OC extracted using pure water, suggesting more aromatic or humic substances were flocculated during seawater extraction. Our results suggest that overestimation of total terrestrial WEOC input to the Arctic Ocean during coastal erosion could occur if estimations were based on WEOC extracted from dried soil samples using pure water.

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