Estimation of slow- and fast-cycling soil organic carbon pools from 6N HCl hydrolysis

S. W. Leavitt, R. F. Follett, E. A. Paul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Acid hydrolysis is used to fractionate the soil organic carbon pool into relatively slow- and fast-cycling compartments on soils from Arizona, the Great Plains states and Michigan collected for carbon isotope tracer studies related to soil carbon sequestration, for studies of shifts in C3/C4 vegetation, and for "pre-bomb" soil-carbon inventories. Prior to hydrolysis, soil samples are first treated with cold 0.5-1N HCl to remove soil carbonates if necessary. Samples are then dispersed in a concentrated NaCI solution (ρ-1.2 g cm-3) and floated plant fragments are skimmed off the surface. After rinsing and drying, all remaining recognizable plant fragments are picked from the soil under 20× magnification. Plant-free soils, and hot, 6N HCl acid-hydrolysis residue and hydrolyzate fractions are analyzed for carbon content, δ13C and 14C age, and the carbon distribution is verified within 1-2% by stable-carbon isotope mass balance. On average, the recalcitrant residue fraction is 1800 yr older and 2.6‰ more 13C-depleted than total soil organic carbon. A test of hydrolysis with fresh plant fragments produced as much as 71-76% in the acid-hydrolysis residue pool. Thus, if plant fragments are not largely removed prior to hydrolysis, the residue fraction may date much younger than it actually is.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-239
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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