But when you look at soil's organic carbon closely, it has an incredible variety of known compounds. And looking closely is exactly what Cornell researchers have done for the first time -- at a scale of 50 nanometers (1 nanometer equals the width of three silicon atoms). Until now, handfuls of soil humus (or the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms) looked remarkably similar.
According to a study published in the April issue of Nature Geoscience, knowing the structure and detailed composition of soil carbon could provide a better understanding of the chemical processes that cycle organic matter in soil. For example, the research may help scientists understand what happens when materials in the soil get wet, warm or cool and how soils sequester carbon, which has implications for climate change.
"There is this incredible nanoscale heterogeneity of organic matter in terms of soil," said Johannes Lehmann, a Cornell associate professor of crop and soil sciences and lead author of the study. "None of these compounds that you can see on a nanoscale level looks anything close to the sum of the entire organic matter."The soil measurements (actually, images produced by a highly focused X-ray beam) were made at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory using an X-ray spectromicroscopy method developed by physicists at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The method allowed the researchers to identify forms of organic carbon in the samples.
The researchers were also able to identify the origins of some of the nano-sized compounds, determining that some of them, for example, were microbe excretions and decomposed leaves.
The researchers also recognized patterns of where types of compounds are likely to be found at the nanoscale.
"Now we can start locating certain compounds," Lehmann said. "We find black carbon as distinct particles in pores, whereas we find microbial products smeared around surfaces of minerals."
The method now allows researchers to break soil down, separate compounds, conduct experiments on individual compounds and better understand the interactions, Lehmann said.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Blaine Friedlander | EurekAlert!
Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute
Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine