04 Mar 2024
 | 04 Mar 2024

The effect of groundwater depth on topsoil organic matter mineralization during a simulated dry summer in North-West Europe

Astrid Françoys, Orly Mendoza, Junwei Hu, Pascal Boeckx, Wim Cornelis, Stefaan De Neve, and Steven Sleutel

Abstract. With climate change expected to intensify the occurrence and severity of droughts, the control of groundwater table (GWT) depth and capillary rise on topsoil moisture may render a critical driver of biological activity. Consequently, GWT depth could influence topsoil carbon mineralization. In this study, undisturbed 200 cm long soil columns of three different textures (loamy sand, sandy loam and silt loam) were subjected to two artificial GWT depths (–165 cm and –115 cm) in the laboratory. We examined (1) moisture supply by capillary rise along the soil profile and specifically into the top 20 cm soil, and (2) consequently the effect of GWT on decomposition of an added 13C-enriched substrate (ryegrass) over a period of ten weeks, with limited water applications representing a dry summer. A 50 cm difference in GWT depth (–165 cm vs. –115 cm) resulted in different topsoil moisture for the sandy loam (31 % vs. 38 % Water-filled pore space (WFPS)) and silt loam (33 % vs. 43 % WFPS) soils. In the loamy sand soil, GWT-induced moisture differences appeared only up to 85 cm above the GWT. The expected acceleration of mineralization of the added ryegrass under a shallower GWT was not confirmed. In contrast, C mineralization pulses after the wetting events were even higher for the drier –165 cm GWT soils. For the silt loam soil, where capillary rise supply had the largest contribution to topsoil moisture, a lower mineralization rate of the stable Cryegrass pool was also found with shallower GWT. These findings suggest that a potential capillary rise effect of increased topsoil moisture on ryegrass mineralization might have been counteracted by other processes. We postulate that the Birch effect might have been magnified following the rewetting of drier topsoils under deeper GWT levels, ultimately enhancing mineralization compared to where the soil remains consistently wetter under shallower GWT levels. Based on our findings, including the process of texture-specific capillary supply from the GWT can be required to adequately simulate moisture in the topsoil during droughts as they occurred over the past summers in North-West Europe, depending on GWT and texture combination. However, the net effect on topsoil C mineralization is complex and correct simulation of C mineralization may require further integration of specific processes connected to fluctuating soil moisture state, such as the Birch effect.

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Astrid Françoys, Orly Mendoza, Junwei Hu, Pascal Boeckx, Wim Cornelis, Stefaan De Neve, and Steven Sleutel

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-559', Anonymous Referee #1, 02 Apr 2024
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Astrid Françoys, 12 Jun 2024
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-559', Anonymous Referee #2, 29 Apr 2024
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Astrid Françoys, 12 Jun 2024
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-559', Anonymous Referee #3, 16 May 2024
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC3', Astrid Françoys, 13 Jun 2024
Astrid Françoys, Orly Mendoza, Junwei Hu, Pascal Boeckx, Wim Cornelis, Stefaan De Neve, and Steven Sleutel
Astrid Françoys, Orly Mendoza, Junwei Hu, Pascal Boeckx, Wim Cornelis, Stefaan De Neve, and Steven Sleutel


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Short summary
To assess the impact of groundwater table (GWT) depth on soil moisture and C mineralization, we designed a laboratory setup using 200 cm undisturbed soil columns. Surprisingly, the moisture increase induced by a shallower GWT did not result in enhanced C mineralization. We presume this capillary moisture effect was offset by increased C mineralization upon rewetting, particularly noticeable in drier soils when capillary rise affected the topsoil to a lesser extent due to a deeper GWT.