Characterizing porous microaggregates and soil organic matter sequestered in allophanic paleosols on Holocene tephras using synchrotron-based X-ray microscopy and spectroscopy
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Allophanic tephra-derived soils can sequester sizable quantities of soil organic matter (SOM). However, no studies have visualized the fine internal porous structure of allophanic soil microaggregates, nor studied the carbon structure preserved in such soils or paleosols. We used synchrotron radiation-based transmission X-ray microscopy (TXM) to perform 3D-tomography of the internal porous structure of dominantly allophanic soil microaggregates, and carbon near-edge X-ray absorption fine-structure (C NEXAFS) spectroscopy to characterize SOM in ≤ 12,000-year-old tephra-derived allophane-rich (with minor ferrihydrite) paleosols. The TXM tomography showed a vast network of internal, tortuous nano-pores within an allophanic microaggregate comprising nanoaggregates. SOM in the allophanic paleosols at four sites was dominated by carboxylic/carbonyl functional groups with subordinate quinonic, aromatic, and aliphatic groups. All samples exhibited similar compositions despite differences between the sites. That the SOM does not comprise specific types of functional groups through time implies that the functional groups are relict. The SOM originated at the land/soil surface: ongoing tephra deposition (intermittently or abruptly) then caused the land-surface to rise so that the once-surface horizons were buried more deeply and hence became increasingly isolated from inputs by the surficial/modern organic cycle. The presence of quinonic carbon, from biological processes but vulnerable to oxygen and light, indicates the exceptional protection of SOM and bio-signals in allophanic paleosols, attributable both to the porous allophane (with ferrihydrite) aggregates that occlude the relict SOM from degradation, and to rapid burial by successive tephra-fallout, as well as strong Al-organic chemical bonding. TXM and C NEXAFS spectroscopy help to unravel the fine structure of soils and SOM and are of great potential for soil science studies.
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