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Probing the pH dependent optical properties of aquatic, terrestrial and microbial humic substances by sodium borohydride reduction

Heighton, Lynne P., Schmidt, Walter F.
Journal of Geography and Geology 2014 v.6 no.3 pp. 214-227
absorption, aquatic environment, chemical reduction, fulvic acids, geography, geology, humic acids, hydrides, microorganisms, optical properties, pH, quinones, sodium, soil, titration
Chemically reducing humic (HA) and fulvic acids (FA) provides insight into spectroscopically identifiable structural moieties generating the optical properties of HA/FA from aquatic, microbial and terrestrial sources. Sodium borohydride reduction provides targeted reduction of carbonyl groups. The contrast between the pH induced optical changes of untreated, reduced and reoxidized HA/FA highlights differences in the quantity, and physicality of structural components generating optical properties associated with HA/FA. Because borohydride reactions alter pH, pH re-adjustment to the original pH is required. Careful titrations of selected HA/FA provided the μmole H)+) g(-1) HA/FA required to titrate reduced and reoxidized HA/FA from pH 2-11; and the pH dependent spectral slope (S) at low (pH 2-3), neutral (pH 7-7.5) and high (pH 11.0). Molar extinction coefficients (ɛ) (Lmg(-1)cm(-1)) at pH 7.6 and 350 nm provide a point of consistency linking intrinsic pH dependent optical properties to the concentration of material used for titrations. Soil derived humic acids differ from aquatic humic acids in the heterogeneity of optically identifiable group as well as the overall concentration of those groups. The microbial source of FA has a limited concentration of homogeneous titratable groups when compared to aquatic FA generated terrestrially. Microbial FA exhibits pH linked optical recovery upon reoxidation when compared to aquatic FA which is consistent with the presence of quinones in microbial FA.