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Environ Sci Technol. 2001 Sep 1;35(17):3519-25.

An improved thermal oxidation method for the quantification of soot/graphitic black carbon in sediments and soils.

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School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle 98195-7940, USA.


Recent findings have confirmed the importance of black carbon (BC) in the global biogeochemical cycles of carbon and oxygen through its important contribution to the slowly cycling organic carbon (OC) pool. Yet, most BC determination methods published to date measure operationally defined BC fractions, oftentimes with a high potential for artifacts and a lack of specificity for one of the two major forms of the BC continuum, soot/graphitic BC (GBC) and char/charcoal BC (CBC). This paper describes a method that reduces the potential for artifacts to accurately and selectively measure the concentration of GBC in complex mineral and organic matrixes. Marine and lacustrine sediments, river sediments, suspended particles, and a marine plankton sample were first demineralized with a mixture of hydrochloric (HCl) and hydrofluoric (HF) acids to expose any biochemical entrapped in a mineral matrix. The hydrolyzable organic matter fraction (mostly proteins and carbohydrates) was then removed with 02-free trifluoroacetic acid and HCl, after which the non-GBC, non-hydrolyzable OC fraction was finally removed by thermal oxidation at 375 degrees C for 24 h. The specificity of the method for GBC was assessed with pure CBC and GBC samples. Detection limit and GBC recovery in spiked samples were 10 mg kg(-1) and approximately 85%, respectively. Typical GBC concentrations measured in a series of natural samples ranged from <10 mg kg(-1) in marine plankton to 0.19% in a riverine sample. These concentrations were lower by as much as 3 orders of magnitude than those obtained by thermal oxidation without demineralization and removal of hydrolyzable organic matter. The improvements presented in this work allow for the accurate and precise measurement of GBC in complex organic and mineral matrixes by eliminating the interference caused by the presence of CBC, residual non-BC OC and minerals, or by the formation of condensation products that could account for as much as 4-6% of total OC. Combined to stable and radioisotope analysis, this improved method should permit quantitative assessments of the role and dynamics of GBC in the global geochemical cycles of carbon and oxygen.

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