Sunlight has been shown to enhance loss of organic matter from aquatic sediments and terrestrial plant litter, so we tested for similar reactions in mineral soil horizons. Losses of up to a third of particulate organic carbon occurred after continuous exposure to full-strength sunlight for dozens of hours, with similar amounts appearing as photodissolved organic carbon. Nitrogen dissolved similarly, appearing partly as ammonium. Modified experiments with interruption of irradiation to include extended dark incubation periods increased loss of total organic carbon, implying remineralization by some combination of light and microbes. These photodissolution reactions respond strongly to water content, with reaction extent under air-dry to fully wet conditions increasing by a factor of 3-4 fold. Light limitation was explored using lamp intensity and soil depth experiments. Reaction extent varied linearly with lamp intensity. Depth experiments indicate that attenuation of reaction occurs within the top tens to hundreds of micrometers of soil depth. Our data allow only order-of-magnitude extrapolations to field conditions, but suggest that this type of reaction could induce loss of 10-20% of soil organic carbon in the top 10. cm horizon over a century. It may therefore have contributed to historical losses of soil carbon via agriculture, and should be considered in soil management on similar time scales. ?? 2011 Elsevier B.V.