Thermal alteration of soil physico-chemical properties: a systematic study to infer response of Sierra Nevada climosequence soils to forest fires
- 1Environmental Systems Graduate Group, University of California, Merced, CA, USA
- 2Soil, Water, and Environmental Science Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
- 3Life and Environmental Sciences Unit, University of California, Merced, CA, USA
Abstract. Fire is a common ecosystem perturbation that affects many soil properties. As global fire regimes continue to change with climate change, we investigated thermal alteration of soils' physical and chemical properties after they are exposed to a range of temperatures that are expected during prescribed and wildland fires. For this study, we used topsoils collected from a climosequence transect along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada that spans from 210 to 2865 m a.s.l. All the soils we studied were formed on a granitic parent material and had significant differences in soil organic matter (SOM) concentration and mineralogy owing to the effects of climate on soil development. Topsoils (0–5 cm depth) from the Sierra Nevada climosequence were heated in a muffle furnace at six set temperatures that cover the range of major fire intensity classes (150, 250, 350, 450, 550 and 650 °C). We determined the effects of heating temperature on soil aggregate strength, aggregate size distribution, specific surface area (SSA), mineralogy, pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), and carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) concentrations. With increasing temperature, we found significant reduction of total C, N and CEC. Aggregate strength also decreased with further implications for loss of C protected inside aggregates. Soil pH and SSA increased with temperature. Most of the statistically significant changes (p < 0.05) occurred between 350 and 450 °C. We observed relatively smaller changes at temperature ranges below 250 °C. This study identifies critical temperature thresholds for significant physico-chemical changes in soils that developed under different climate regimes. Our findings will be of interest to studies of inferences for how soils are likely to respond to different fire intensities under anticipated climate change scenarios.