Latest paper: Soil with less easily-decomposable C is more susceptible to C loss with charcoal additions (over the short term…)

My third Ph.D. dissertation chapter has been published in Environmental Science and Technology. I am feeling pretty proud, and am happy to be getting the work I did at Cornell off my desk (two more papers to go, with the one on three-source partitioning with two stable isotopes almost ready to submit). I presented this work at the SOM6 conference while I was working on the revisions, and had some helpful feedback from conference participants.

Briefly, I used (what I think is) a cool approach to manipulate the level of mineralizability of soil C (i.e., how easy it is to decompose) by pre-incubating the soils for different lengths of time (6 months vs. 24 hours), and then mixing it with pyrogenic organic matter (or “PyOM”, or “charcoal”, or “biochar“) with increased or decreased amounts of easily-available C (i.e., water-soluble), to see how relative amounts of easily-mineralizable C affected decomposition in the soil and the PyOM.

I found that the 6-month pre-incubated soil was more susceptible to increased C losses with PyOM additions, over the first few days of the incubation, although both soils eventually experienced net decreases in C losses with PyOM additions. Also, more PyOM-C was lost in the 6-month pre-incubated soil, possibly because portions of the PyOM were relatively more appealing than the soil C or because the 6-month pre-incubation had more available nitrogen, which helps decompose the PyOM.

This could help us predict which soils will be at risk for increased C losses with biochar applications, with soils where C is already depleted being more likely to experience losses with PyOM additions, especially if the PyOM is similar to the 350°C maple wood char I used in the study.

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4 thoughts on “Latest paper: Soil with less easily-decomposable C is more susceptible to C loss with charcoal additions (over the short term…)

  1. Dear Sir,
    What an interesting work!!!
    I am Fatima, recently finished my M.Sc at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
    I also worked on biochar as a form of organic amendment to check it effects on the growth and yield of tomato.
    My biomass was maize husk, which I pyrolysed into biochar.
    I would like to read more of your work sir
    Awaiting your kind response

    • Hi Fatima,

      I’m not a Sir, but I’m glad you are interested in this work! I’ve emailed you some of my other biochar papers – hopefully you’ll find them useful.

      Cheers,
      Thea

  2. Hello Thea,
    The way you presented in your blog is pretty good. I am very much impressed on your work on biochar. I am planing to start doing research on biochar for the first time in my research career. I need your view about the most important and required field to study “Biochar as Soil Amendment”.
    Waiting for your reply
    Sathya

    • Hi Sathya,

      Thanks for your interest. A strong grounding in soil biogeochemistry and soil ecology is a great starting point for engaging with biochar. Be sure to keep in mind that materials referred to as biochar are heterogeneous, as are the soils to which they may be applied. Clear characterization of each biochar and the corresponding soils that are being studies is essential to advancing our understanding of their interactions. Additionally, remember to always ask – what is the baseline scenario? What would have happened to this biomass if it were not used to produce biochar? I have some more thoughts on the “What is biochar?” and “FAQ” pages here – hopefully they are helpful.

      Cheers,
      Thea

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