Spatial variation in soil chemistry on a Sub-Antarctic island

Conradie, Everhard Christiaan ; Smith, Valdon R. (2012-03)

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

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On both west and east sides of sub-Antarctic Marion Island (47oS, 38oE), total Na and exchangeable Na, Mg and K concentrations in the soil decline with increasing distance inland and altitude, related to a decrease in the intensity of seaspray deposition. On the east side, the coastal plain is wide and slopes gently up to the mountainous interior and total C, total N and soil moisture content all decrease significantly, whereas bulk density increases significantly, as one moves away from the sea, reflecting a gradual change from organic, wet, low bulk density peats characteristic of low-land coastal regions to mineral, dry, high bulk density volcanic soils characteristic of inland areas. On the west side, the narrow coastal plain is bounded by an escarpment that rises up very steeply to the highland interior. There, sampling was largely restricted to the coastal plain (soils are rare on the escarpment and interior) and did not cover the same transition from organic to mineral soils as on the east side. Hence, total C, total N and bulk density did not change significantly with increasing distance inland on the west side. Most total Mg is in the mineral fraction of the soil, with a lesser contribution by organic, exchangeable and soil solution forms of Mg. On the east side the gradual transition from highly organic peats to very mineral soils results in an increase in total Mg going inland, but on the west, where there was not this change in soil minerality, total Mg decreased with increasing distance inland, reflecting the decreasing intensity of seaspray. Once the between-side differences in the influence of altitude and distance from the sea are accounted for, there are significant differences in soil chemical composition between the two sides of the island. Overall, west side soils are more influenced by both seaspray and the parent volcanic basalts than are east side soils.

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