Black carbon accrual during 2000 years of paddy-rice and non-paddy cropping in the Yangtze River Delta, China

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Rice straw burning has accompanied paddy management for millennia, introducing black carbon (BC) into soil as the residue of incomplete combustion. This study examined the contribution of BC to soil organic matter and the rate at which it accumulates in paddy soils as a result of prolonged paddy management. Soil depth profiles were sampled along a chronosequence of 0–2000 years of rice–wheat rotation systems and adjacent non-paddy systems (50–700 years) in the Bay of Hangzhou (Zhejiang province, China). The soil BC content and its degree of condensation were assessed using benzene-polycarboxylic acids (BPCAs) as geochemical markers. The results showed that despite regular long term BC input, BC only contributed 7–11% of total soil organic carbon (SOC) in the topsoil horizons. Nevertheless, along with SOC, paddy soils accumulated BC with increasing duration of management until 297 years to reach a steady-state of 13 t BC ha−1. This was 1.8 times more than in non-paddy soils. The fate of BC in paddy soils (0–1 m) could be modeled revealing an average annual input of 44 kg ha−1 yr−1, and a mean residence time of 303 years. The subsoils contributed at least 50% to overall BC stocks, which likely derived from periods prior to land embankment and episodic burial of ancient topsoil, as also indicated by BPCA pattern changes. We conclude that there is a significant but limited accumulation of C in charred forms upon prolonged paddy management. The final contribution of BC to total SOC in paddy soils was similar to that in other aerobic ecosystems of the world.

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