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Geochemical Journal
Geochemical Journal An open access journal for geochemistry
Published for geochemistry community from Geochemical Society of Japan.

Radiocarbon content and stable carbon isotopic ratios of individual fatty acids in subsurface soil: Implication for selective microbial degradation and modification of soil organic matter

Geochemical Journal, Vol. 41, No. 6, P. 483-492, 2007


A subsurface soil sample was studied for molecular composition and stable carbon isotopic ratios (δ13C) of fatty acids (FAs) using a capillary gas chromatography (GC) and GC/combustion/isotope ratio mass spectrometer, respectively. Compound specific radiocarbon analyses of FAs were also conducted using an off-line preparative capillary GC/accelerator mass spectrometer. Molecular distribution of FAs (C14-C32) is characterized by even carbon numbered predominance with two maxima at n-C16 and n-C28, being similar to that of plant leaf. However, branched chain C15 and C17 acids were abundant in soil, indicating bacterial degradation and modification of soil organic carbon. The δ13C of FAs (-35.2 to -23.0‰) are within the range of plant leaf δ13C (-36.4 to -31.2‰), except for heavy values (-23.0 to -28.1‰) of C14 to C18. The heavier δ13C values are most likely interpreted by microbial re-synthesis of shorter chain FAs in soil. We also report, for the first time, a significant diversity of Δ14C values (+17 to +127‰) in soil FAs, with higher values (+96 to +127‰) for saturated and unsaturated C18 and lower values (+16 to +19‰) for longer chain C28 and C30. The higher radiocarbon values can be explained by a combination of selective microbial decomposition of shorter chain FAs in subsurface soil, and the subsequent deposition and mixing of modern carbon with old carbon in soil. The modern carbon may be transported downward in the form of shorter chain FAs and other water-soluble organic compounds by meteoric water and/or tree roots, followed by microbial re-synthesis of lipids in soil. This study implies that microbial degradation and modification of soil organic matter play an important role in geochemical processes which control the carbon cycle on the Earth.


compound specific radiocarbon and isotope analysis (CSRA and CSIA), soil organic carbon, monocarboxylic (fatty) acid, turnover rate and residence time, soil carbon cycles

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