Organic Geochemistry, 2012, Vol.42(12), pp.1476-1488
► NanoSIMS enables submicron analyses of in situ soil processes. ► Isotopic enrichment of organic matter can be tracked in soil aggregates. ► Submicron elemental composition of soil aggregates follows spatial patterns. The specific features of the nano-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) technology with the simultaneous analysis of up to seven ion species with high mass and lateral resolution enables us to perform multi-element and stable isotope measurements at the submicron scale. To elucidate the power of this technique, we performed an incubation experiment with soil particles of the fine silt and clay fractions (from an Albic Luvisol), with occluded particulate organic material and intact soil aggregates (from a Haplic Chernozem), using a C and N labelled amino acid mixture as tracer. Before and during 6-day incubation after the addition of the label, samples were consecutively prepared for NanoSIMS analysis. For this purpose, two different sample preparation techniques were developed: (i) wet deposition and (ii) the sectioning of epoxy resin embedded samples. Single soil particles (fine silt/clay fraction) showed an enrichment of C and N after label addition that decreased over time. On aggregates of particulate organic matter, re-aggregated during the 6-day incubation experiment, we could show a spatially heterogeneous enrichment of C and N on the particle surface. The enrichment in N demonstrated the diffusion of dissolved organic matter into intact soil aggregate interiors. The prospects of NanoSIMS for three dimensional studies of stable C and N isotopes in organo-mineral associations is demonstrated by the recorded depth profiles of the organic matter distribution on mineral particles.
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