Controls on iron in soils and soil waters of a forested, coastal catchment in subtropical Australia

Löhr, Stefan Carlos (2010) Controls on iron in soils and soil waters of a forested, coastal catchment in subtropical Australia. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Soluble organic matter derived from exotic Pinus vegetation forms stronger complexes with iron (Fe) than the soluble organic matter derived from most native Australian species. This has lead to concern about the environmental impacts related to the establishment of extensive exotic Pinus plantations in coastal southeast Queensland, Australia. It has been suggested that the Pinus plantations may enhance the solubility of Fe in soils by increasing the amount of organically complexed Fe. While this remains inconclusive, the environmental impacts of an increased flux of dissolved, organically complexed Fe from soils to the fluvial system and then to sensitive coastal ecosystems are potentially damaging. Previous work investigated a small number of samples, was largely laboratory based and had limited application to field conditions. These assessments lacked field-based studies, including the comparison of the soil water chemistry of sites associated with Pinus vegetation and undisturbed native vegetation. In addition, the main controls on the distribution and mobilisation of Fe in soils of this subtropical coastal region have not been determined. This information is required in order to better understand the relative significance of any Pinus enhanced solubility of Fe. The main aim of this thesis is to determine the controls on Fe distribution and mobilisation in soils and soil waters of a representative coastal catchment in southeast Queensland (Poona Creek catchment, Fraser Coast) and to test the effect of Pinus vegetation on the solubility and speciation of Fe. The thesis is structured around three individual papers. The first paper identifies the main processes responsible for the distribution and mobilisation of labile Fe in the study area and takes a catchment scale approach. Physicochemical attributes of 120 soil samples distributed throughout the catchment are analysed, and a new multivariate data analysis approach (Kohonen’s self organising maps) is used to identify the conditions associated with high labile Fe. The second paper establishes whether Fe nodules play a major role as an iron source in the catchment, by determining the genetic mechanism responsible for their formation. The nodules are a major pool of Fe in much of the region and previous studies have implied that they may be involved in redox-controlled mobilisation and redistribution of Fe. This is achieved by combining a detailed study of a ferric soil profile (morphology, mineralogy and micromorphology) with the distribution of Fe nodules on a catchment scale. The third component of the thesis tests whether the concentration and speciation of Fe in soil solutions from Pinus plantations differs significantly from native vegetation soil solutions. Microlysimeters are employed to collect unaltered, in situ soil water samples. The redox speciation of Fe is determined spectrophotometrically and the interaction between Fe and dissolved organic matter (DOM) is modelled with the Stockholm Humic Model. The thesis provides a better understanding of the controls on the distribution, concentration and speciation of Fe in the soils and soil waters of southeast Queensland. Reductive dissolution is the main mechanism by which mobilisation of Fe occurs in the study area. Labile Fe concentrations are low overall, particularly in the sandy soils of the coastal plain. However, high labile Fe is common in seasonally waterlogged and clay-rich soils which are exposed to fluctuating redox conditions and in organic-rich soils adjacent to streams. Clay-rich soils are most common in the upper parts of the catchment. Fe nodules were shown to have a negligible role in the redistribution of dissolved iron in the catchment. They are formed by the erosion, colluvial transport and chemical weathering of iron-rich sandstones. The ferric horizons, in which nodules are commonly concentrated, subsequently form through differential biological mixing of the soil. Whereas dissolution/ reprecipitation of the Fe cements is an important component of nodule formation, mobilised Fe reprecipitates locally. Dissolved Fe in the soil waters is almost entirely in the ferrous form. Vegetation type does not affect the concentration and speciation of Fe in soil waters, although Pinus DOM has greater acidic functional group site densities than DOM from native vegetation. Iron concentrations are highest in the high DOM soil waters collected from sandy podosols, where they are controlled by redox potential. Iron concentrations are low in soil solutions from clay and iron oxide rich soils, in spite of similar redox potentials. This is related to stronger sorption to the reactive clay and iron oxide mineral surfaces in these soils, which reduces the amount of DOM available for microbial metabolisation and reductive dissolution of Fe. Modelling suggests that Pinus DOM can significantly increase the amount of truly dissolved ferric iron remaining in solution in oxidising conditions. Thus, inputs of ferrous iron together with Pinus DOM to surface waters may reduce precipitation of hydrous ferric oxides and increase the flux of dissolved iron out of the catchment. Such inputs are most likely from the lower catchment, where podosols planted with Pinus are most widely distributed. Significant outcomes other than the main aims were also achieved. It is shown that mobilisation of Fe in podosols can occur as dissolved Fe(II) rather than as Fe(III)-organic complexes. This has implications for the large body of work which assumes that Fe(II) plays a minor role. Also, the first paper demonstrates that a data analysis approach based on Kohonen’s self organising maps can facilitate the interpretation of complex datasets and can help identify geochemical processes operating on a catchment scale.

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ID Code: 47012
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Cox, Malcolm & Preda, Micaela
Keywords: iron, redox, reductive dissolution, soil, soil water, dissolved organic matter, iron speciation, iron complexation, solubility, iron mobility, Stockholm Humic model, visual MINTEQ, microlysimeter, podosol, iron nodule, bioturbation, ferric horizon, laterite, self organising maps, coastal catchment, subtropical, Queensland, Australia
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 14 Nov 2011 22:59
Last Modified: 03 May 2016 23:57

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