The solubility of aluminum in acidic forest soils: long-term changes due to acid deposition

Jan Mulder, Alfred Stein

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Despite the ecological and pedogenic importance of Al, its solubility control in acidic forest soils is poorly understood. Here we discuss the solubility of Al and its development with time in three acid brown forest soils in The Netherlands, which are under extreme acidification from atmospheric deposition. All soil solutions (to a 60 cm depth) were undersaturated with respect to synthetic gibbsite (Al(OH)3; log K = 9.12 at 8°C), with the highest degree of undersaturation occurring in the surface soil. In about one third of the individual soil layers a significant positive correlation existed between the activity of Al3+ and H+, but this relationship was far less than cubic. Kinetically constrained dissolution of Al is unlikely to explain the disequilibrium with respect to gibbsite, because undersaturation was highest through summer when water residence times were longest and temperatures greatest. Time series analysis of six year data sets for several soil layers revealed a significant annual decline in soil solution pH and Al solubility (defined as log Al + 3 pH) despite a constant concentration of strong acid anions. The annual decline of both pH and Al solubility was greatest in the surface soil and was positively correlated with the relative depletion of reactive organically bound soil Al. The results support our earlier hypothesis that in strongly acidified forest soils complexation by solid phase organics controls the solubility of Al even in mineral soil layers, relatively low in organic C. The data lend no support to the current widespread and often uncritical use of gibbsite as a model for the Al solubility in highly acidic forest soils (pH < 4.5) of the temperate zone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-94
JournalGeochimica et cosmochimica acta
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1994


  • ADLIB-ART-1894


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