Research in the last 20 years has shown that chlorine undergoes transformations between inorganic and organic forms as part of a complex biogeochemical cycle in terrestrial systems. Natural organochlorine production appears to be associated with the decomposition of plant material on the soil surface, though the chlorine cycle budget implies that a proportion of natural organochlorine enters soil through plant litter and atmospheric deposition as well. Organochlorine compounds may form through biotic and abiotic pathways, but the rates and magnitude of production in the field remain undefined. We have performed a time-dependent trace of chlorine concentration through forest ecosystems, revealing distinct fractions of naturally produced organochlorine in plant biomass. Aliphatic organochlorine constitutes an intrinsic component of healthy leaves that persists through senescence and humification of the plant material, making a substantial contribution to the pool of soil organochlorine. Plant leaves also contain soluble aromatic organochlorine compounds that leach from leaf litter during early decay stages. As decay progresses, high concentrations of insoluble aromatic organochlorine accrue in the humus, through de novo production as well as adsorption. The rates of aromatic organochlorine production and degradation vary seasonally and conversely. This study presents the first unambiguous evidence that there exist multiple pools of chlorinated organic matter in the soil environment and that leaf litter deposition makes a significant and refractory contribution to the soil organochlorine pool, providing key insights into the biogeochemical chlorine cycle.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Environmental Chemistry
- Environmental Science(all)
- Atmospheric Science