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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract - DIVISION S-2-SOIL CHEMISTRY

Radiocarbon Dating of Aliphatic Hydrocarbons A New Approach for Dating Passive-Fraction Carbon in Soil Horizons


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 63 No. 5, p. 1181-1187
    Received: June 22, 1998

    * Corresponding author(s): yongsong@essc.psu.edu
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  1. Yongsong Huang *a,
  2. Baocai Lia,
  3. Charlotte Bryantb,
  4. Roland Bolc and
  5. Geoffrey Eglintona
  1. a Biogeochemistry Research Center, Dep. of Geology, Univ. of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK
    b NERC Radiocarbon Lab., Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, East Kilbride, Glasgow G75 0QF, UK
    c Inst. of Grassland and Environmental Research, North Wyke, Okehampton, Devon EX20 2SB, UK


Aliphatic hydrocarbons isolated from three types of British upland soils at different depths were 14C-dated by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and compared with 14C ages of total organic C (TOC) of bulk soils and acid-hydrolyzed residues. In all cases, aliphatic hydrocarbons were significantly older than TOC but comparable with (in some cases older than) hydrolyzed residues, indicating that the 14C content of aliphatic hydrocarbons reflects the age of a passive-fraction C. The age differences between the aliphatic hydrocarbons and TOC increase with the degree of mineralization: thus, up to a 10000 yr difference in age is observed for highly mineralized horizons in podzol and acid brown earth. The leaf-wax n-alkanes (C25 to C33) isolated from a peaty gley core show a virtually linear relationship between their ages and the depth. In contrast to bulk soil organic matter that contains younger C deposited by plant roots and by water leaching, leaf wax n-alkanes are contributed at the soil surface by the leaves of dead plants and are of low mobility due to their extremely low water-solubility. The low biodegradability of long-chain n-alkanes leads to their persistence in the soil horizons where they were originally deposited. Therefore, their ages are ideal as chronological indicators for soils and peats.

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