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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 May 15;42(10):3550-5.

Atmospheric SO2 emissions since the late 1800s change organic sulfur forms in humic substance extracts of soils.

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  • 1Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. CL273@cornell.edu


Atmospheric SO2 emissions in the UK and globally increased 6- and 20-fold, respectively, from the mid-1800s to the 1960s resulting in increased S deposition, acid rain, and concurrent acidification of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Structural analyses using synchrotron-based X-ray near-edge spectroscopy (XANES) on humic substance extracts of archived samples from the Rothamsted Park Grass Experiment reveal a significant (R2 = -0.58; P < 0.05; N = 7) shift in soil organic sulfur (S) forms, from reduced to more oxidized organic S between 1876 and 1981, even though soil total S contents remained relatively constant. Over the last 30 years, a decrease in emissions and consequent S deposition has again corresponded with a change of organic S structures of humic extracts-reverting in the direction of their early industrial composition. However, the observed reversal lagged behind reductions in emissions by 19 years, which was computed using cross correlations between time series data (R2 = 0.66; P = 0.0024; N = 11). Presently, the ratio of oxidized-to-reduced organic S in humic substance extracts is nearly double that of early industrial times at identical SO2 emission loads. The significant and persistent structural changes of organic S in humic substances as a response to SO2 emissions and S deposition may have effects on recuperation of soils and surface waters from acidification.

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