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International Journal of Wildland Fire
  Published on behalf of the International Association of Wildland Fire
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 Just Accepted

This article has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It is in production and has not been edited, so may differ from the final published form.

Pyrogenic carbon: the influence of particle size and chemical composition on soil carbon release

Meaghan Jenkins, Tina Bell, Jaymie Norris, Mark Adams


In many countries (perhaps most commonly in Australia and the United States), prescribed or planned burning is increasingly used as a management strategy to reduce the risk and impact of wildfires. As a by-product of this practice, ash, charcoal and partially charred material (referred to here as pyrogenic carbon, PC) is created. The amount and type of PC produced and fate of this form of carbon is uncertain. Pyrogenic C is often assumed to be resistant to chemical and microbial degradation and therefore potentially persistent in soils for hundreds or thousands of years. As a result, PC has been proposed as a sink for carbon and promoted for its storage potential in soil. We hypothesised that the differing components of PC would interact differently with soil processes and have varying potential for carbon storage. We analysed the chemical composition of PC produced by prescribed fire in a eucalypt forest and measured its effect on soil respiration. When divided into five size fractions, PC had varying concentrations of carbon, nitrogen and most other nutrients. A laboratory incubation experiment showed that when PC of differing size fractions was added to soil, the smallest size fraction (<1 mm; ash) increased rates of soil respiration while larger fractions (1-2, 2-4.5, 4.5-9 and >9 mm; charcoal) had little effect. The carbon contained in the larger size fractions of PC (charcoal) were resistant to microbial degradation and had little effect on microbial processes such as respiration. In general, fires of greater intensity will produce greater proportional amounts of smaller size particles and will likely result in faster rates of respiration than fires of lesser intensity.

WF13189  Accepted 18 May 2014
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