Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

First Nanoscale Image Of Soil Reveals An 'Incredible' Variety, Rich With Patterns

Date:
May 1, 2008
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Soil "unearthed" at the nanoscale: Soil scientists have seen -- for the first time -- seen soil at a scale of 50 nanometers. This view provided a beautiful glimpse of patterns, how carbon sequestration works, and what happens when soils get wet, warm and cool.

A nanoscale image of a carbon distribution map in a soil microaggregate.
Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University

A handful of soil is a lot like a banana, strawberry and apple smoothie: Blended all together, it is hard to tell what's in there, especially if you have never tasted the fruits before.

Related Articles


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.

While the composition of organic carbon in soils from North America, Panama, Brazil, Kenya or New Zealand proved remarkably similar within each sample, the researchers found that within spaces separated by mere micrometers, soils from any of these locations showed striking variation in their compositions. For example, the compounds that "hang on the right and left of a clay mineral may be completely different," said Lehmann.

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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "First Nanoscale Image Of Soil Reveals An 'Incredible' Variety, Rich With Patterns." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428104525.htm>.
Cornell University. (2008, May 1). First Nanoscale Image Of Soil Reveals An 'Incredible' Variety, Rich With Patterns. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428104525.htm
Cornell University. "First Nanoscale Image Of Soil Reveals An 'Incredible' Variety, Rich With Patterns." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428104525.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Around the World Take Flight

Birds Around the World Take Flight

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 22, 2014) An imperial eagle equipped with a camera spreads its wings over London. It's just one of the many birds making headlines in this week's "animal roundup". Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins