Rapid High Spatial Resolution Chemical Characterization of Soil Structure to Illuminate Nutrient Distribution Mechanisms Related to Carbon Cycling Using Laser Ablation Aerosol Mass Spectrometry

Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
M. Lizabeth L Alexander, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, United States and Raea K Hicks, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States
Soils contain approximately half of Earth’s terrestrial carbon. As such, it is important to understand the factors that control the cycling of this soil organic carbon between the land and the atmosphere. Models that attribute the persistence of soil organic carbon to the intrinsic properties of the molecules themselves are inconsistent with recent observations— for example, materials that are more thermodynamically stable have been found to have a shorter lifetime in soils than ones that are less stable, and vice versa. A new explanation has therefore been posited that invokes ecosystem properties as a whole, and not just intrinsic molecular properties, as the kinetic factor controlling soil carbon dynamics. Because soil dynamics occur on a small scale, techniques with high spatial resolution are required for their study. Existing techniques such as TOF-SIMS require preparation of the sample and introduction into a high vacuum system, and do not address the need to examine large numbers of sample systems without perturbation of chemical and physical properties. To address this analytical challenge, we have coupled a laser ablation (LA) module to an Aerodyne aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS), thereby enabling sample introduction and subsequent measurement of small amounts of soil organic matter by the laser ablation aerosol mass spectrometer (LA-AMS). Due to the adjustable laser beam width, the LA-AMS can probe spot sizes ranging from 1-150 μm in diameter, liberating from 10-100 ng/pulse. With a detection limit of 1 pM, the AMS allows for chemical characterization of the ablated material in terms of elemental ratios, compound classes, and TOC/TOM ratios. Furthermore, the LA-AMS is capable of rapid, in-situ sampling under ambient conditions, thereby eliminating the need for sample processing or transport before analysis. Here, we will present the first results from systematic studies aimed at validating the LA-AMS method as well as results from initial measurements of the temporal and spatial distribution of chemical species, illuminating carbon dynamics in soil and the rhizosphere and their role in the global carbon cycle.