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Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Feb 15;45(4):1370-5. doi: 10.1021/es103061v. Epub 2011 Jan 20.

Uranium isotope fractionation during adsorption to Mn-oxyhydroxides.

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School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.


Previous work has shown uranium (U) isotope fractionation between natural ferromanganese crusts and seawater. Understanding the mechanism that causes (238)U/(235)U fractionation during adsorption to ferromanganese oxides is a critical step in the utilization of (238)U/(235)U as a tracer of U adsorption reactions in groundwater as well as a potential marine paleoredox proxy. We conducted U adsorption experiments using synthetic K-birnessite and U-bearing solutions. These experiments revealed a fractionation matching that observed between seawater and natural ferromanganese sediments: adsorbed U is isotopically lighter by ∼0.2‰ (δ(238/235)U) than dissolved U. As the redox state of U does not change during adsorption, a difference in the coordination environment between dissolved and adsorbed U is likely responsible for this effect. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed U adsorbed to K-birnessite in our experimental study using extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) spectroscopy, to obtain information about U coordination in the adsorbed complex. Comparison of our EXAFS spectra with those for aqueous U species reveals subtle, but important, differences in the U-O coordination shell between dissolved and adsorbed U. We hypothesize that these differences are responsible for the fractionation observed in our experiments as well as for some U isotope variations in nature.

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