Soil structure amelioration with quicklime and irrigation experiments in earth graves

Research paper by Iris Zimmermann, Heiner Fleige, Rainer Horn

Indexed on: 27 Jul '16Published on: 27 Jul '16Published in: Journal of Soils and Sediments


Air supply and soil moisture have significant impact on the decay time necessary for complete decomposition of an interred body. Concerning the general structure and hydraulic as well as pneumatic conditions, in many cases, a permeable refilled soil material surrounded by the undisturbed and less permeable soil outside the grave results in water ponding, less aerated conditions, and lower redox potential values within the grave. This reduces the decomposition speed or even leads to preservation of the entire body.In order to ascertain soil structural processes and hydraulic properties in an earth grave within the first year after burial, a monitoring of soil redox and matric potentials was realized in newly refilled artificial (empty) graves. We surveyed four variations: undisturbed reference soil, soil backfill in artificial grave, soil backfill in artificial grave amended with 20 kg CaO m−3, and grave base and walls strewed with CaO. In the fourth artificial grave (soil backfill only), irrigation experiments were conducted in order to simulate the effects of grave maintenance on soil water budget. Pore size distribution, air conductivity, and saturated hydraulic conductivity were measured on soil core samples from the variations. The monitoring was realized with redox sensors and tensiometers in 50- and 130-cm depth in all four variations.Soil structure disruption increased soil porosity but also favored saturation of the soil in context with precipitation events. Compared with the graves without amendment, the addition of quicklime resulted in higher air capacity and air permeability, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and a better-aerated (higher redox potentials) and less water-saturated soil. Non-recurring irrigation with 2.2, 4.4, and 8.9 mm did not affect the soil moisture in the 50- and 130-cm depth. Repeated irrigation with 8.9 mm on consecutive days led to persistent water saturation in the soil, especially in the 130-cm depth.The disturbed soil structure in the cover layer of an earth grave is sensitive to settlement and, together with a tendency to the development of stagnic conditions, this can have negative impact on soil aeration in the grave. Addition of quicklime to the soil enhances crack development in the base and walls of the grave, stabilizes the soil fragments in the backfill, and prevents intensive settlement processes. This reduces water ponding and leads to a better aeration of the soil. Irrigation of earth graves should be reduced to a minimum.