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Chemical and Biological Gradients along the Damma Glacier Soil Chronosequence, Switzerland

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This article in VZJ

  1. Vol. 10 No. 3, p. 867-883
    Received: Oct 22, 2010

    * Corresponding author(s): Stefano.bernasconi@erdw.ethz.ch
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  1. Stefano M. Bernasconi *a,
  2. Andreas Bauderb,
  3. Bernard Bourdonc,
  4. Ivano Brunnerd,
  5. Else Bünemanne,
  6. Iso Chrisf,
  7. Nicolas Derungsgh,
  8. Peter Edwardsi,
  9. Daniel Farinottib,
  10. Beat Freyd,
  11. Emmanuel Frossarde,
  12. Gerhard Furrerf,
  13. Merle Giergaa,
  14. Hans Göranssoni,
  15. Kathy Güllandd,
  16. Frank Hagedornd,
  17. Irka Hajdasj,
  18. Ruth Hindshawcf,
  19. Susan Ivy-Ochsj,
  20. Jan Jansae,
  21. Tobias Jonask,
  22. Mirjam Kiczkacf,
  23. Ruben Kretzschmarf,
  24. Emmanuel Lemarchandcf,
  25. Jörg Lusterd,
  26. Jan Magnussonk,
  27. Edward A.D. Mitchellghl,
  28. Harry Olde Venterinki,
  29. Michael Plötzem,
  30. Ben Reynoldsc,
  31. Rienk H. Smittenberga,
  32. Manfred Stählin,
  33. Federica Tamburinie,
  34. Edward T. Tipperc,
  35. Lukas Wackerj,
  36. Monika Welce,
  37. Jan G. Wiederholdcf,
  38. Josef Zeyerf,
  39. Stefan Zimmermannd and
  40. Anita Zumstegd
  1. a Geological Inst., ETH Zürich, Sonneggstrasse 5, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
    b Lab. of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), ETH Zürich, Gloriastrasse 37/39, 8092 Zürich Switzerland
    c Inst. of Geochemistry and Petrology,ETH Zürich, Clausiusstrasse 25, 8092 Zürich Switzerland
    d Soil Sci., WSL Swiss Federal Inst. for Forest, Snow and Landscape Res., Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
    e Inst. of Agric. Sci., ETH Zürich, Eschikon 33, 8315 Lindau, Switzerland
    f Inst. of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics, ETH Zürich, Universitätstrasse 16, 8092 Zürich Switzerland
    g WSL Swiss Federal Inst. for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Res., Ecosystem Boundaries Res. Unit, Station 2, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
    h Lab. of Soil Biology, Inst. of Biology, Univ. of Neuchâtel, 2009 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
    i Inst. of Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, Universitätstrasse 16, 8092 Zürich Switzerland
    j Lab. of Ion Beam Physics, ETH Zürich, Schafmattstrasse 20 CH-8093 Zürich, Switzerland
    k Snow Hydrology, WSL Inst. for Snow and Avalanche Res, SLF Flüelastr. 11, 7260 Davos Dorf, Switzerland
    l Lab, des Systèmes écologiques, EPFL, Station 2, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
    m Inst. for Geotechnical Eng,, ETH Zürich, Schafmattstr. 6, 8092 Zürich Switzerland
    n Mountain Hydrology and Torrents, WSL Swiss Federal Inst. for Forest, Snow and Landscape Res,, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland


Soils are the product of a complex suite of chemical, biological, and physical processes. In spite of the importance of soils for society and for sustaining life on earth, our knowledge of soil formation rates and of the influence of biological activity on mineral weathering and geochemical cycles is still limited. In this paper we provide a description of the Damma Glacier Critical Zone Observatory and present a first synthesis of our multidisciplinary studies of the 150-yr soil chronosequence. The aim of our research was to improve our understanding of ecosystem development on a barren substrate and the early evolution of soils and to evaluate the influence of biological activity on weathering rates. Soil pH, cation exchange capacity, biomass, bacterial and fungal populations, and soil organic matter show clear gradients related to soil age, in spite of the extreme heterogeneity of the ecosystem. The bulk mineralogy and inorganic geochemistry of the soils, in contrast, are independent of soil age and only in older soils (>100 yr) is incipient weathering observed, mainly as a decreasing content in albite and biotite by coincidental formation of secondary chlorites in the clay fraction. Further, we document the rapid evolution of microbial and plant communities along the chronosequence.

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