Sulphur dynamics of the alpine soils in a Scottish catchment at risk from acidification
The adsorption of sulphate has been studied using alpine and sub-alpine podzolic soils from the Allt a'Mharcaidh catchment, Cairngorms, Scotland, U.K. A detailed investigation of sulphur pools and mechanisms of sulphur retention has revealed that incoming sulphate ion, both marine and anthropogenic, is being retained by a range of adsorption mechanisms. Analysis of the soils has indicated that the sulphur content of the soils is dominated by organic forms of sulphur. Selective chemical fractionation techniques have identified an accumulation of sesquioxides, dominated by amorphous aluminium, in the basal horizons of all the soil profiles. Adsorption of sulphate has been shown to be mainly governed by the quantity and variable charge character of this sesquioxide phase. Fractionation has also suggested that the sesquioxides in the basal horizons of the soils are dominated by a combination of gibbsitic and imogolitic materials, the latter being present as a result of podzolization processes. The generation of sulphate adsorption isotherms has revealed that the organic horizons of the catchment soils show little or no sulphate adsorption capacity, due to a small sesquioxide content. In contrast, the mineral horizons are all capable of adsorbing sulphate, and in most cases this adsorption can be modelled to the Langmuir adsorption equation. The adsorption capacity of particle size fractions of the soils has revealed that even soil particles > 1 mm show an ability to retain sulphate, possibly by physical entrapment of soil solution in mineral pores or amorphous silica gel coatings. The accompanying hydroxyl release that is generally assumed to accompany adsorption of sulphate in the mineral soils was not evident, and unless a ligand exchange reaction was masked by other chemical reactions involving total proton balance, sulphate adsorption in the catchment soils is not due to a specific or 'low affinity' specific mechanism.