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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Biochar as a potential tool to mitigate nutrient exports from managed boreal forest: A laboratory and field experiment

Mosquera, Virginia; Gundale, Michael J.; Palviainen, Marjo; Lauren, Annamari; Laudon, Hjalmar; Hasselquist, Eliza Maher


Forest management in drained forested peatlands can negatively affect water quality due to the increase in exports of organic matter and nutrients. Therefore, new methods to alleviate this impact are needed. In laboratory conditions, biochar has been shown to be a strong sorbent of organic and inorganic nutrients due to its high surface area and ion-exchange capacity. However, evidence of the adsorption capacity in field conditions is lacking. Here, we studied the water purification performance of two different biochar feedstocks (wood- and garden residue-based) in a 10-day laboratory experiment where we incubated biochar with runoff water collected from drainage ditches in clear-cut peatland forests. We measured changes in pH and concentrations of inorganic phosphorus (PO4), total dissolved nitrogen (TDN), and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). The biochar with the best adsorbent capacity in the laboratory experiment was then tested in field conditions in a replicated catchment-scale experiment, where both clear-cutting and ditch cleaning were performed. We determined the nutrient concentration of water at the inlet and outlet of biochar filters placed in outflow ditches of four catchments. We found that under laboratory conditions wood-based biochar efficiently adsorbed TDN and DOC, however, it released PO4. Furthermore, we found that the biochar filters reduced TDN and DOC concentration in field conditions. However, the percentage decrease in concentration was dependent on the initial concentrations of nutrients in the water and could be considered low. Moreover, we found that the biochar in the filters increased in TN content over the course of the experiment. This suggests that a wood-based biochar filter has the potential to be a water protection tool for reducing the export of nutrients from catchments with high nutrient concentration. And that the biochar from the ditches could be applied back to the regenerating forest catchment as a potential soil amendment, closing the nutrient cycle.


biochar; dissolved organic carbon; forest management; nitrogen; nutrient adsorption; phosphorus; water quality

Published in

GCB Bioenergy
2024, Volume: 16, number: 3, article number: e13131
Publisher: WILEY