Structural and hydrological alterations of soil due to addition of coal fly ash

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Journal of Soils and Sediments, 2011, 11 (3), pp. 423 - 431
Issue Date:
2011-04-01
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Purpose: We tested the potential of using coal fly ash for improving the physical and hydrological characteristics of coarse and medium-textured agricultural soils. Materials and methods: Acidic (FWA) and alkaline (FNSW) fly ashes were used to amend a range of representative agricultural soils. In the first experiment, fly ash was applied to the top 10 cm of 1-m long intact cores of a sandy loam soil at rates of 0, 12, 36 or 108 Mg/ha and sown with canola; after harvest, bulk density (BD), aggregate stability and mean weight diameter (MWD) were measured on the soil. In the second experiment, we assessed water retention at field capacity (-300 kPa) and permanent wilting point (-1,500 kPa) for sandy and loamy soils amended with FNSW at 0.0-16% (w/w). The third experiment used rainfall simulation to assess erodibility of sandy and loamy soils mixed with FNSW at rates of 0, 5 or 20 Mg/ha. Results and discussion: In the first experiment, fly ash had no significant effect on MWD of the soil. The BD in the 0-10 cm layer (topsoil) was increased with addition of FWA, while FNSW applied at 108 Mg/ha reduced BD, relative to the control treatment. This was because FNSW had lower particle and bulk densities than FWA and the test soils. Ash addition increased macro-aggregation, significantly so in the 10-20 cm layer (subsurface layer), by reducing the percentages of micro-aggregates and silt + clay particles. Thus, macro-aggregation was positively correlated (p < 0.01) with MWD, but both were inversely correlated (p < 0.01) with micro-aggregates. In the second experiment, addition of fly ash enhanced plant water availability by increasing water retention at field capacity by threefold in the sandy soil and 1.5-fold in the loamy sand, but water retention at permanent wilting point was not affected. In Experiment 3, the addition of ash at 20 Mg/ha, but not at 5 Mg/ha, increased turbidity of runoff water from the amended soil due to the dispersal of fine particles by the impact of the simulated raindrops. Conclusions: Moderate rates of fly ash (<12 Mg/ha or ≤2% w/w) addition can improve aggregation and plant water availability in light to medium-textured soils. Soil applications thus provide a significant end-use for fly ash and can be a part of strategies for minimising environmental footprints from coal-fired power generation. Future studies are needed to further optimise application practices for long-term sustainability. © 2010 Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Australia as represented by the University of New England, Australia.
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