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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 16 Jun 2020

Submitted as: research article | 16 Jun 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Particles under stress: Ultrasonication causes size and recovery rate artifacts with soil derived POM, but not with microplastics

Frederick Büks1, Gilles Kayser2, Antonia Zieger1, Friederike Lang2, and Martin Kaupenjohann1 Frederick Büks et al.
  • 1Chair of Soil Science, Dept. of Ecology, Technische Universität Berlin, 10587 Berlin, Germany
  • 2Chair of Soil Ecology, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg i.Br., Germany

Abstract. The breakdown of soil aggregates and the extraction of particulate organic matter (POM) by ultrasonication and density fractionation is a method widely used in soil organic matter (SOM) analyses. It has recently also been used for the extraction of microplastic from soil samples. However, the investigation of some POM physiochemical properties and ecological functions might be biased, if particles are comminuted during the treatment. In this work, different types of POM, which are representative for different terrestrial ecosystems and anthropogenic influences, were tested for their structural stability in face of ultrasonication in a range of 0 to 500 J ml−1. The occluded particulate organic matter (oPOM) of an agricultural and forest soil as well as pyrochar showed a significant reduction of particle size at ≥ 50 J ml−1 by an average factor of 1.37 ± 0.16 and a concurrent reduction of recovery rates by an average of 21.7 ± 10.7 % when being extracted. Our results imply that ultrasonication causes an imitated carry-over of POM to more strongly bound fractions or to the mineral-associated organic matter (MOM) due to enhanced attraction to the mineral phase, which could e.g. lead to a false estimation of physical stabilization. In contrast, neither fresh nor weathered polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) microplastics showed a reduction of particle size or the recovery rate after application of ultrasound. We conclude that ultrasonication applied to soils has no impact on microplastic size distribution and thus provides a valuable tool for the assessment of microplastics in soils and soil aggregates.

Frederick Büks et al.

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Frederick Büks et al.

Frederick Büks et al.


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Short summary
Ultrasonication/density fractionation is a common method used to extract particulate organic matter (POM) and, recently, microplastic (MP) from soil samples. In this study, ultrasonic treatment with mechanical stress increasing from 0 to 500 J ml−1 caused comminution and a reduced recovery rate of soil derived POMs, but no such effects with MP particles. In consequence, the extraction of MP from soils is not affected by particle size and recovery rate artifacts.
Ultrasonication/density fractionation is a common method used to extract particulate organic...