School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations

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The objective of this work was to describe a method for isolating meaningful and measurable soil organic matter (SOM) pools that differ in the mechanisms by which they are protected from decomposition. The proposed method is appropriate for soil C stabilization and sequestration studies. Unlike previous fractionation schemes, this procedure allows free SOM located between aggregates (unprotected C pool) and SOM occluded within both macroaggregates and microaggregates (C weakly and strongly protected by physical mechanisms, respectively) to be recovered separately, freed from the soil mineral matrix and the mineral-associated SOM pool (C pool protected by chemical mechanisms) and thus well suited to advanced chemical characterization by 13C-NMR. Briefly, free SOM is isolated by an initial density separation. Stable macroaggregates are broken up into stable microaggregates and intra-macroaggregate SOM, which is then separated by density. Finally, intra-microaggregate SOM is isolated from mineral-associated SOM by a third density separation after ultrasonic disruption. The SOM dissolved during the fractionation procedure is also recovered. Results obtained on soil samples with contrasting textures suggested that clay content induces a decrease of the proportion of free organic C and an increase of mineral-associated organic C content. Free SOM is characterized by a marked presence of undecayed organic material and biologically labile substances, such as carbohydrates and proteins. In contrast, SOM occluded within aggregates, especially within microaggregates, represents a more decomposed fraction, relatively enriched in unsubstituted-aliphatic material, most probably lipid biopolymers.


Copyright © 2012 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim. Original published version available at

Publication Title

Clean Soil Air Water





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