FTIR Evidence of Changes in Carbon Associated with Hydrophobicity in Wildfire Affected Soils Treated with Elevated Temperature, Acid Snow Melt, or UV-Light

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American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2009, abstract #B51F-0363

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In a wild fire, organic volatile compounds from vegetation condense on soil particles forming a hydrophobic layer several centimeters below the soil surface. We studied the degradation of the hydrophobic layer in soils from two fire sites. One site is located in a montane woodland (Wood Camp, Logan Canyon, UT) that burned in 2006. The second site is located in an arid pinyon pine/juniper stand in Milford Flats, Beaver County, UT that burned in 2007. Both sites were sampled in 2008. In situ measurements of hydrophobicity demonstrated highly hydrophobic layers a few centimeters below the surface at both sites in contrast with unburned control sites, where hydrophobicity was observed at the surface but fell off sharply with depth. Samples of surface and subsurface soil were collected from the burned and unburned areas at both sites. Subsamples of all the soils were placed in microlysimeters, treated with acid snowmelt, elevated temperatures (30°C - 47°C), and UV light. After the treatments, the soils were air-dried and the surfaces analyzed for evidence of change in hydrophobicity using the drop test, oxidation of aromatic functional groups by cation exchange capacity (CEC), and the selective degradation of aliphatic functional groups associated with hydrophobicity by FTIR-ATR. Although results of the water drop penetration test suggest that simply wetting and air-drying the soils resulted in complete loss of hydrophobicity, the CEC results suggest that carbon oxidation occurred in the organic matter rich Wood Camp Soils. CEC results for the low carbon content Milford Flats soils were less clear. Analyses of peak heights in the range 4000 - 400 cm-1 demonstrate clear differences between the controlled and burned soils from the two sites and effects of all the treatments, particularly in the regions from 3020 to 2800 cm-1, corresponding to asymmetric and symmetric stretching vibrations of methyl and methylene groups associated with hydrophobicity. Peak height in this range decreased for both the burned soils exposed to natural UV light relative to covered soils. Slightly elevating temperature within an environmentally relevant range decreased peak heights in both the control and burned soils. Changes in peaks associated with polysaccharides (1030 cm-1) and CO2 (2260 cm-1) suggest microbial activity as a factor.

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