Nutrient leaching in highly weathered tropical soils often poses a challenge for crop production. We investigated the effects of applying 20 t ha biochar (BC) to a Colombian savanna Oxisol on soil hydrology and nutrient leaching in field experiments. Measurements were made over the third and fourth years after a single BC application. Nutrient contents in the soil solution were measured under one maize and one soybean crop each year that were routinely fertilized with mineral fertilizers. Leaching by unsaturated water flux was calculated using soil solution sampled with suction cup lysimeters and water flux estimates generated by the model HYDRUS 1-D. No significant difference ( > 0.05) was observed in surface-saturated hydraulic conductivity or soil water retention curves, resulting in no relevant changes in water percolation after BC additions in the studied soils. However, due to differences in soil solution concentrations, leaching of inorganic N, Ca, Mg, and K measured up to a depth of 0.6 m increased ( < 0.05), whereas P leaching decreased, and leaching of all nutrients (except P) at a depth of 1.2 m was significantly reduced with BC application. Changes in leaching at 2.0 m depth with BC additions were about one order of magnitude lower than at other depths, except for P. Biochar applications increased soil solution concentrations and downward movement of nutrients in the root zone and decreased leaching of Ca, Mg, and Sr at 1.2 m, possibly by a combination of retention and crop nutrient uptake.
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