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Doctoral thesis, 2016

The role of subsoil properties for phosphorus leaching in agricultural soils

Andersson, Helena


Phosphorus (P) leaching from agricultural land is a large contributor to eutrophication of many surface waters and the Baltic Sea. Better knowledge of P sorption and release in the subsoil could enable the development of effective mitigation strategies for P leaching. This thesis examined the impact of soil properties on P leaching from four Swedish agricultural soils (two clays, two sands), using intact soil columns extracted with (length 1.05 m) and without (length 0.77 m) topsoil. The role of the subsoil as a source or sink for P leaching was also investigated, and placement of quicklime (CaO) on top of the subsoil as a mitigation strategy for P leaching was evaluated. Leaching of dissolved reactive P (DRP) from subsoil lysimeters was 94% of that from full-length lysimeters in one of the clay soils, and 70% in the other. The higher contribution of the former clay subsoil was probably due to high P content deeper in the soil. Leaching of DRP was low from full-length and subsoil lysimeters (0.12 and 0.08 kg ha-1 yr-1, respectively) in one of the sandy soils, despite high topsoil P content, due to high P sorption capacity and low degree of P saturation in the subsoil. However, leaching of DRP was very high from full-length and subsoil lysimeters (3.33 and 3.29 kg ha-1 yr-1, respectively) from the other sandy soil with moderate topsoil P content, due to high P content and low P sorption capacity in the subsoil. These results indicate that the subsoil can function as both a source and sink for P leaching. Phosphorus leaching increased with increasing P content and DPS in subsoil and decreasing P sorption capacity in topsoil and subsoil, indicating that these parameters could be used for P leaching risk assessments. However, on soils with preferential flow in the subsoil, P leaching may be high despite high subsoil P sorption capacity. Hence, both chemical and physical properties of topsoil and subsoil must be considered in implementation of appropriate, cost-effective mitigation strategies for P loss reductions. Application of lime on top of the subsoil significantly reduced leaching of particulate P (PP) in both clay subsoils by 49 and 51%, respectively, compared with unlimed controls. This suggests that subsoil liming might be an appropriate method to reduce P leaching from clay soils.


phosphorus leaching; subsurface drainage; subsoil; lysimeter; mitigation option; phosphorus sorption; lime

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2016, number: 2016:9
ISBN: 978-91-576-8520-9, eISBN: 978-91-576-8521-6
Publisher: Department of Soil and Environment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Andersson, Helena
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science
Soil Science
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

URI (permanent link to this page)