Chemical heterogeneity of organic soil colloids investigated by scanning transmission X-ray microscopy and C-1s NEXAFS microspectroscopy

Marc Schumacher, Iso Christl, Andreas C. Scheinost, Chris Jacobsen, Ruben Kretzschmar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Colloid release and deposition in soils and sorption of inorganic and organic pollutants to soil colloids are strongly influenced by the composition and chemical heterogeneity of colloidal soil particles. To investigate the chemical heterogeneity of organic soil colloids at the particle scale, we used synchrotron scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) and C-1s near-edge X-ray absorption fine structure (NEXAFS) spectroscopy on 49 individual particles isolated from the surface horizons of three forest soils. Stacks of 130 images of each particle were collected at different X-ray energies between 280 and 310 eV. From these image arrays, NEXAFS spectra were obtained for each pixel and analyzed by principle component analysis and cluster analysis (PCA-CA) to characterize the intraparticle heterogeneity of the organic components. The results demonstrate that the organic matter associated with water-dispersible soil colloids is chemically heterogeneous at the single-particle scale. PCA-CA identified at least two distinct regions within single particles. However, the spectral variations between these regions were much smaller than the variations of averaged NEXAFS spectra representing different particles from the same soil horizon, implying that interparticle heterogeneity is much larger than intraparticle heterogeneity. Especially the contents of aromatic and carboxyl carbon exhibited a large variability. Overall, the NEXAFS spectra of water-dispersible soil colloids were similar to the NEXAFS spectrum of the humic acid fraction, but differed clearly from the fulvic acid and dissolved organic matter fractions extracted from the same soil horizon using conventional techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9094-9100
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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