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A comparative study of optical properties of NaOH peat extracts: Implications for humification studies

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Andrew Baker


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Assessment of the degree of decay of peat (humification) in ombrotrophic mires has become a standard technique for palaeoclimatic reconstruction, based on the finding that decay is primarily determined by surface wetness and temperature at the time of peat deposition. Determination of humification is undertaken by colorimetric measurement of an alkali extract of the peat at 540 nm. Humification is proportional to the amount of humic matter dissolved by this extraction process, although few researchers convert results to a quantitative measure of humification expressing results as percentage light transmission through the peat. This paper uses luminescence spectroscopy to assess the chemical composition of these extracts. Luminescence excitation and emission wavelengths suggest that high molecular weight acids ('humic acids') are altered by the extraction procedure to form lower molecular weight acids ('fulvic acids'), amino acids and polysaccharides. Percentage transmission is principally related to luminescence emission wavelength and thus to molecular weight of the compounds present. Luminescence emission shows much more sensitivity to peat composition and demonstrates that different plant species may be affected to different degrees by the NaOH extraction process. The findings broadly support the underlying principle of colorimetric determination of 'humification' whereby transmission levels decrease with increasing plant breakdown, but show that it is based on an inadequate understanding of the chemical processes occurring in peat decay and preparation procedures. Luminescence spectroscopy provides a technique for resolving these issues.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Caseldine CJ, Baker A, Charman DJ, Hendon D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Holocene

Year: 2000

Volume: 10

Issue: 5

Pages: 649-658

ISSN (print): 0959-6836

ISSN (electronic): 1477-0911

Publisher: Sage Publications


DOI: 10.1191/095968300672976760


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