EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Going with the flow: Initial soil structure development by percolating dissolved organic matter

Ingrid Kögel-Knabner1,3, Franziska B. Bucka1, Vincent J.M.N.L. Felde2, and Stephan Peth2
Ingrid Kögel-Knabner et al.
  • 1Soil Science, Technical University of Munich (TUM), Freising, Germany
  • 2Institute of Soil Science, University of Hanover, Hanover, Germany
  • 3Institute for Advanced Study, Technical University of Munich (TUM), Garching, Germany

Percolating dissolved organic matter (DOM) from the topsoil is considered the main source of subsoil organic carbon (OC) in temperate soils. Although DOM adsorption to minerals has been extensively studied, comprehensive knowledge about its influence on subsoil OC storage and structure development is limited.

We conducted a short-term incubation experiment using artificial model soils without pre-existing aggregates to study the effects of percolating DOM within varying soil textural conditions on OC turnover and initial structure development.

The model soils were designed with contrasting texture (clay loam, loam, sandy loam), but identical mineral composition (quartz, illite, montmorillonite, goethite), mimicking subsoil conditions, where mineral surfaces free of OM come into contact with percolating DOM. The regular application of DOM under a constant suction head (-15 kPa) enabled the DOM to percolate freely through the soil matrix over the course of the experiment.

A higher sand content caused a lower porosity, which was accompanied by a lower moisture content. In contrast, the OC retention (21% of the OC input), and the microbial abundance and activity were unaffected by the soil texture. The percolating DOM created patches of OM covers on 10% of the mineral surfaces (N2-BET) within an otherwise OC-free mineral matrix.

The biochemical processing of the percolating DOM solution induced the formation of large, water-stable aggregates (wet-sieving) in all textures without requiring the presence of physical organic nuclei. Aggregate formation was pronounced in the clay-rich soils (58% mass contribution), which also exhibited a higher mechanical stability of the aggregates.

The results highlight that retention and microbial mineralization of dissolved OM are decoupled from pore sizes and soil solution exchange, but are instead driven by the mineral composition and OC input.

The biochemical processing of percolating DOM can induce large soil aggregates. Here, the presence of fine mineral particles enhances the formation and mechanical stability of the aggregates, irrespective of their surface charge or sorption properties.

How to cite: Kögel-Knabner, I., Bucka, F. B., Felde, V. J. M. N. L., and Peth, S.: Going with the flow: Initial soil structure development by percolating dissolved organic matter, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8300,, 2023.