, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 304-311
Date: 13 Nov 2012

Exploring the effect of organic matter on the interactions between mineral particles and cations with Wien effect measurements

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Understanding of the interactions between cations, mineral particles, and organic matter (OM) in soils is of paramount importance in plant nutrition and environmental science, and thus, these phenomena have been studied extensively. At present, an effective and simple tool to investigate these interactions does not exist. Based on previous studies of Wien effect in suspensions, the interactions of cations with soil mineral particles, complicated by the presence of organic matter, can be easily determined by means of Wien effect measurements, which was the objective of this study.

Materials and methods

A paddy soil originating from a yellow-brown soil, rich in organic matter, served as a test sample, from which the clay fraction of less than 2 μm in diameter was separated. Organic matter of aliquots of the clay fraction was removed by the oxidation with hot H2O2, and the natural and OM-free samples were saturated with various cations: Na+, K+, Ca2+, and Cd2+. The effects of OM present in the paddy soil on the interactions between the cations and the soil mineral particles were investigated by measuring the suspension Wien effect with a homemade apparatus, SHP-2.

Results and discussion

The weak electrical field electrical conductivities (EC0) of suspensions of the natural soils saturated with various cations were higher than those of the OM-free soils. The rate of increase in electrical conductivity of suspensions of the OM-free soil, except that of suspensions saturated with Na+, at electrical field strengths >50∼100 kV cm−1 was higher than those of the natural soil suspensions. The presence of OM increased the mean free binding energies of cations other than Na+. The increasing binding energies for K+ and Ca2+ were 0.56 and 0.57 kJ mol−1, respectively, which were significantly larger than the increase for Cd2+ as only 0.03 kJ mol−1. The binding energies of various cations on both natural and OM-free soils were all in the order: Na+ < K+ < Ca2+≈Cd2+. As opposed to its effect on the binding energies, the presence of OM reduced the mean free adsorption energies of the cations. Except for Na+, the adsorption energies of K+, Ca2+, and Cd2+ at field strengths >50 kV cm−1 were lower in the natural soil as compared with the OM-free soil, and the differences between the adsorption energies became larger with increasing field strengths. The presence of OM made the zeta potential of the soil particles saturated with Na+ and K+ positive, and the particles saturated with Ca2+ and Cd2+ negative.


Organic matter affected the interactions of cations with soil mineral particles significantly. Binding and adsorption energies, which were quantitative measures of the interactions between cations and soil particles, could be determined by Wien effect measurements in suspensions. The binding energies on natural soils were larger than those on the corresponding OM-free soils, and the adsorption energies on the natural soils were lower than those on OM-free soils.

Responsible editor: Chris E. Johnson