Speciation of Phosphorus by coupled HPLC-ICPMS: Application for quantification of reduced forms of phosphorus in rocks and natural waters.

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Zachary D Atlas, Matthew A Pasek and Jacqueline Sampson, Univ of South Florida, Tampa, FL, United States
Phosphorus is a geologically important element making up approximately 0.12 % of the Earth’s crust. It is commonly found as relatively insoluble apatite and this causes phosphorus to be a limiting nutrient in biologic processes. Despite this, phosphorus is a key element in DNA, RNA and other cellular materials. Recent works suggest that reduced phosphorus played a substantial role in the development of life on the early Earth. Reduced phosphorus is considerably more soluble than oxidized phosphorus, and reduced phosphorus may continue to play a role in biologic productivity. This study examines a new methodology for quantification of reduced phosphorus separated by coupled HPLC – ICP-MS. We show that phosphorus species (P1+, P3+ and P5+) are cleanly separated in the HPLC and coupled with the ICP-MS reaction cell (using O2 gas) effectively convert elemental P to P-O producing lower background and flatter baseline chromatography. Results suggest very low detection limits (0.05 mM) for P species analyzed as P-O at M/Z = 47. Additionally this technique has potential to speciate at least 5 other metastable forms of phosphorus. We verified this method on numerous materials including leached Archean rocks to suburban retention pond waters and many samples show small but detectible levels of reduced phosphorus. These data highlight a significant role of redox processing of phosphorus throughout the history of the Earth, with the reduced oxidation state phosphorus compounds, phosphite and hypophosphite, potentially acting as significant constituents in the anaerobic environment.