Assessing the Reactive Surface Area of Soils and the Association of Soil Organic Carbon with Natural Oxide Nanoparticles Using Ferrihydrite as Proxy

Mendez, Juan C.; Hiemstra, Tjisse; Koopmans, Gerwin F.


Assessment of the surface reactivity of natural metal-(hydr)oxide nanoparticles is necessary for predicting ion adsorption phenomena in soils using surface complexation modeling. Here, we describe how the equilibrium concentrations of PO4, obtained with 0.5 M NaHCO3 extractions at different solution-to-soil ratios, can be interpreted with a state-of-the-art ion adsorption model for ferrihydrite to assess the reactive surface area (RSA) of agricultural top soils. Simultaneously, the method reveals the fraction of reversibly adsorbed soil PO4 (R-PO4). The applied ion-probing methodology shows that ferrihydrite is a better proxy than goethite for consistently assessing RSA and R-PO4. The R-PO4 pool agrees well with ammonium oxalate (AO)-extractable phosphorus, but only if measured as orthophosphate. The RSA varied between ∼2 and 20 m2/g soil. The corresponding specific surface area (SSA) of the natural metal-(hydr)oxide fraction is ∼350-1400 m2/g, illustrating that this property is highly variable and cannot be represented by a single value based on the AO-extractable oxide content. The soil organic carbon (SOC) content of our top soils increases linearly not only with the increase in RSA but remarkably also with the increase in mean particle size (1.5-5 nm). To explain these observations, we present a structural model for organo-mineral associations based on the coordination of SOC particles to metal-(hydr)oxide cores.