Methodological constraints limit the extent to which existing soil aggregation models explain carbon (C) stabilization in soil. We hypothesize that the physical infrastructure of microaggregates plays a major role in determining the chemistry of the occluded C and intimate associations between particulate C, chemically stabilized C and the soil mineral matrix. We employed synchrotron-based scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) coupled with near-edge X-ray absorption fine structure (C 1s-NEXAFS) spectroscopy to investigate the nanoscale physical assemblage and C chemistry of 150-μm microaggregates from a Kenyan Oxisol. Ultra-thin sections were obtained after embedding microaggregates in a sulfur block and sectioning on a cryo-microtome at -55°C. Principal component and cluster analyses revealed four spatially distinct features: pore surfaces, mineral matter, organic matter, and their mixtures. The occurrence of these features did not vary between exterior and interior locations; however, the degree of oxidation decreased while the complexity and occurrence of aliphatic C forms increased from exterior to interior regions of the microaggregate. At both locations, compositional mapping rendered a nanoscale distribution of oxidized C clogging pores and coating pore cavities on mineral surface. Hydrophobic organic matter of aromatic and aliphatic nature, representing particulate C forms appeared physically occluded in 2- to 5-μm pore spaces. Our findings demonstrate that organic matter in microaggregates may be found as either oxidized C associated with mineral surfaces or aromatic and aliphatic C in particulate form. Using STXM and C 1s-NEXAFS we are for the first time able to resolve the nanoscale biogeocomplexity of unaltered soil microaggregates.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Soil Science