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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-11-15 14:05:13
  • Article ID: 685283

Where a Leaf Lands and Lies Influences Carbon Levels in Soil for Years to Come

Whether carbon comes from leaves or needles affects how fast it decomposes, but where it ends up determines how long it's available.

  • Credit: Image courtesy of John Bryan Curtis

    Detailed shot of a soil horizon studied to examine litter decay

The Science

In one of the few such studies, scientists examined how dead leaves, roots, and other plant litter decay over a decade. The team used stable isotope labels to trace plant litter-derived carbon and nitrogen as the litter decomposed and formed soil, specifically the fraction of soil called organic matter, which comes from plant inputs and microscopic animals. They found that the litter type (needles or roots) and the placement in the soil environment both affected decomposition, but at different timescales.

The Impact

This research helps bridge the gap between studies of how leaves and other plant litter decompose and soil organic matter, which contains decomposed litter and other bio-based materials. The study builds this bridge by tracing how litter becomes soil organic matter over a decade. The results back a paradigm shift in our understanding of soil carbon research. The study does so by demonstrating that the long-term retention of litter-derived carbon and nitrogen in soil depends on where the litter lands.

Summary

A team led by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the type of plant inputs (that is, root or needle litter) affected total carbon and nitrogen retention over 10 years, but that soil horizon (essentially, the layer of soil, such as the topsoil organic or deeper mineral layers) affected how the litter-derived soil organic material is stabilized in the long term. In the organic horizon, litter was retained in the coarse particulate size fraction (greater than 2 millimeters) over 10 years, likely due to conditions that limited its physical breakdown. In the mineral horizon, litter-derived carbon and nitrogen were broken down quickly, and retained in a finer size fraction (less than 2 millimeters), likely due to association with minerals that prevent microbes from fully accessing the carbon and nitrogen. Once the organic material was protected by minerals, the original litter source had no further effect on its stabilization. After 10 years, 5 percent of initial carbon and 15 percent of initial nitrogen were retained in organo-mineral associations, which form the most persistent organic matter in soils. Very little litter-derived carbon moved vertically in the soil profile over the decade, but nitrogen was significantly more mobile.

Funding

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program under contract DE-AC02-05CH11231.

Publication

C.E. Hicks Pries, J.A. Bird, C. Castanha, P.J. Hatton, and M.S. Torn, “Long term decomposition: The influence of litter type and soil horizon on retention of plant carbon and nitrogen in soils.” Biogeochemistry 134, 5-16 (2017). [DOI: 10.1007/s10533-017-0345-6]

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Researchers Achieve HD Video Streaming at 10,000 Times Lower Power

Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a new HD video streaming method that doesn't need to be plugged in. Their prototype skips the power-hungry components and has something else, like a smartphone, process the video instead.

Lawrence Livermore Issues Combined State-by-State Energy and Water Use Flow Charts

For the first time, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has issued state-by-state energy and water flow charts in one location so that analysts and policymakers can find all the information they need in one place.

Battery's Hidden Layer Revealed

An international team led by Argonne National Laboratory makes breakthrough in understanding the chemistry of the microscopically thin layer that forms between the liquid electrolyte and solid electrode in lithium-ion batteries. The results are being used in improving the layer and better predicting battery lifetime.

Ramp Compression of Iron Provides Insight into Core Conditions of Large Rocky Exoplanets

A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester have provided the first experimentally based mass-radius relationship for a hypothetical pure iron planet at super-Earth core conditions. This discovery can be used to evaluate plausible compositional space for large, rocky exoplanets, forming the basis of future planetary interior models, which in turn can be used to more accurately interpret observation data from the Kepler space mission and aid in identifying planets suitable for habitability.

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Valleytronics Discovery Could Extend Limits of Moore's Law

Research appearing today in Nature Communications finds useful new information-handling potential in samples of tin(II) sulfide (SnS), a candidate "valleytronics" transistor material that might one day enable chipmakers to pack more computing power onto microchips. 

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SLAC and its collaborators are transforming the way new materials are discovered. In a new report, they combine artificial intelligence and accelerated experiments to discover potential alternatives to steel in a fraction of the time.

Seeing How Next-Generation Batteries Power-Up

Scientists directly see how the atoms in a magnesium-based battery fit into the structure of electrodes.

A Heavyweight Solution for Lighter-Weight Combat Vehicles

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed and successfully tested a novel process - called Friction Stir Dovetailing - that joins thick plates of aluminum to steel. The new process will be used to make lighter-weight military vehicles that are more agile and fuel efficient.

How to Turn Light Into Atomic Vibrations

Converting laser light into nuclear vibrations is key to switching a material's properties on and off for future electronics.


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Five Leading Liberal Arts Colleges Partner to Create New Solar Energy Facility in Maine

Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Smith and Williams colleges have formed a partnership that will allow them to offset 46,000 megawatt hours per year of their collective electrical needs--enough to power 5,000 New England homes--with electricity created at a solar power facility to be built in Maine.

Argonne Selects Innovators From Across Nation to Grow Startups

Argonne announces second cohort of Chain Reaction Innovations.

Brookhaven Lab Materials Physicist Yimei Zhu Receives 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America

How do complex atomic and electronic interactions impact material properties? Using electron microscopy instrumentation and methods he developed, Yimei Zhu has been investigating this question for the past 30 years. The Microscopy Society of America is now recognizing his contributions.

SLAC Produces First Electron Beam with Superconducting Electron Gun

Accelerator scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are testing a new type of electron gun for a future generation of instruments that take snapshots of the atomic world in never-before-seen quality and detail, with applications in chemistry, biology, energy and materials science.

U.S., India Sign Agreement Providing for Neutrino Physics Collaboration at Fermilab and in India

Earlier today, April 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and India's Atomic Energy Secretary Dr. Sekhar Basu signed an agreement in New Delhi to expand the two countries' collaboration on world-leading science and technology projects. It opens the way for jointly advancing cutting-edge neutrino science projects under way in both countries: the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) with the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) hosted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab and the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO).

Nanomaterials Expert Ganpati Ramanath Named Fellow of Materials Research Society

Nanomaterials expert Ganpati Ramanath, the John Tod Horton '52 Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named a fellow of the Materials Research Society (MRS) "for developing creative approaches to realize new nanomaterials via chemically directed nanostructure synthesis and assembly and for tailoring interfaces in electronics and energy applications using molecular nanolayers."

Doing the Neutron Dance

Two materials scientists, Suzanne te Velthuis and Stephan Rosenkranz, have been named fellows of the Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA).

Hirohisa Tanaka Joins SLAC to Push Limits of Neutrino Physics

Accomplished neutrino physicist Hirohisa Tanaka has joined the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory as a professor of particle physics and astrophysics. He oversees a group at the lab that is preparing for research with the future Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF). The experiment will give scientists unprecedented opportunities to learn more about neutrinos - fundamental particles with mysterious properties that could play crucial roles in the evolution of the universe.

University Teams to Compete in Department of Energy's 2018 National Cyber Defense Competition

The U.S. Department of Energy is proud to announce the 29 university teams selected to compete in the third annual Cyber Defense Competition (CDC), taking place April 6-7, 2018.


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Getting Magnesium Ions to Pick Up the Pace

Magnesium ions move very fast to enable a new class of battery materials.

Seeing How Next-Generation Batteries Power-Up

Scientists directly see how the atoms in a magnesium-based battery fit into the structure of electrodes.

Worm-Inspired Tough Materials

Scientists mimic a worm's lethal jaw to design and form resilient materials.

How to Turn Light Into Atomic Vibrations

Converting laser light into nuclear vibrations is key to switching a material's properties on and off for future electronics.

Superacids Are Good Medicine for Super Thin Semiconductors

Scientists demonstrated that powerful acids heal certain structural defects in synthetic films.

Tubular Science Improves Polymer Solar Cells

Novel engineered polymers assemble buckyballs into columns using a conventional coating process.

Fast! Hard X-Ray Flash Breaks Speed Record

Lasting just a few hundred billionths of a billionth of a second, these bursts offer new tool to study chemistry and magnetism.

Scientists Have Overestimated Meteor Sizes

First demonstration of high-pressure metastability mapping with ultrafast X-ray diffraction shows objects aren't as large as previously thought.

Rewriting Resistance: Genetic Changes Increase Crops' Biomass and Sugar Release

Using genetic engineering, scientists improve biomass growth and conversion in woody and grassy feedstocks.

Measuring the Glow of Plants From Below

Novel observations suggest a great potential of measuring global gross primary production via solar-induced fluorescence.


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