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Early indicators of soil formation in the Icelandic sub-arctic highlands

Early indicators of soil formation in the Icelandic sub-arctic highlands

Title: Early indicators of soil formation in the Icelandic sub-arctic highlands
Author: Mankasingh, Utra
Gísladóttir, Guðrún   orcid.org/0000-0002-4309-2414
Date: 2019-03-01
Language: English
Scope: 152-163
University/Institute: Háskóli Íslands
University of Iceland
School: Verkfræði- og náttúruvísindasvið (HÍ)
School of Engineering and Natural Sciences (UI)
Department: Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences (UI)
Líf- og umhverfisvísindadeild (HÍ)
Jarðvísindastofnun (HÍ)
Institute of Earth Sciences (UI)
Series: Geoderma;337
ISSN: 0016-7061
DOI: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2018.09.002
Subject: Soil Science; Andisol; Andosols; Soil; Soil carbon; Soil formation; Jarðvegsrannsóknir; Jarðvegur; Jarðeðlisfræði
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/1803

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Mankasingh, U. & Gísladóttir, G., 2019. Early indicators of soil formation in the Icelandic sub-arctic highlands. Geoderma, 337, pp.152–163.


Andisols are carbon-rich soils that persist in volcanic regions with cool climates. They are the main soil type in Iceland, where there are also large areas of premature or degraded mineral soils with the possible potential to become andisols. This study examines soils from vegetated and unvegetated sites to look at the earliest indicators of andisol formation and soil organic carbon accumulation. Soils from 12 sites in the southern Icelandic highlands, which are characterised by harsh climate, shallow soils and limited vegetation cover, were sampled at four depths (0–5 cm, 5–10 cm, 10–20 cm and 20–30 cm). Three sites were sparsely vegetated gravels (M1–M3) and nine were fully vegetated, including 8 grassland sites (G1–G8) with mosses and dwarf shrubs, and a sandy fluvial wetland (S) with grasses, mosses and dwarf shrubs. Soils with vegetative cover were characterised as weak or structureless ranging from loamy sand to silty clay loam, while soils at the sparsely vegetated sites were structureless and sandy. The soil depth is greater in the vegetated sites, indicating greater soil development. On average, the bulk density of soils (0.75–1.16 g cm−3) was lower at vegetated sites than sparsely vegetated sites (0.90–1.17 g cm−3). The average carbon (%C), nitrogen (%N) and the overall soil organic matter (%SOM) of vegetated sites were higher (1.60%C, 0.10%N, 4.9%SOM) than for sparsely vegetated sites (0.27%C, 0.02%N, 1.81%SOM) with lower pH at the vegetated sites (pH < 7.2) than the sparsely vegetated (pH > 7.2), indicating the difference in soil development. Silandic allophanic material is present throughout the study area: all soils had >10% amounts of amorphous clay minerals (allophane, ferrihydrite or aluminium-humus complexes) and high aluminium and iron percentages. Strong associations between pyrophosphate-extractable Fe and Al and the soil C, indicative of Al and Fe complexed with humus or allophane and ferrihydrite clays of vegetated sites were observed. The %C, %SOM, Fe/Al associations, soil structure and soil depth all suggest that there is gradient of increasing soil genesis from sparsely vegetated to vegetated sites. Although the soils at the vegetated sites may be considered to be andisols, they are still immature, while the less developed soils at the sparsely vegetated sites are vitrisols (<1% C) and have not yet developed into andisols. Both of these groups are still undergoing pedological transformation and have not yet reached the C content of more mature andisols but indicate the potential for increased C accumulation. This study suggests there is potential for these soils to develop into the more fertile andisols over time through vegetation and vegetative succession.


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This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/BY-NC-ND/4.0

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