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A comparison of SEM-EDS with ICP-AES for the quantitative elemental determination of estuarine particles


Suspended particulate matter (SPM) is a key component regulating the biogeochemistry of natural and contaminant moieties in estuaries. Individual particle analyses can complement conventional bulk analyses of SPM, but are rarely undertaken. This study used scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM-EDS) of particles to quantify a range of elements in the reference estuarine sediment PACS-2. This approach was compared with a bulk SPM analysis based on inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES). The median concentrations of Al, Fe, Mg, and Ca for the two approaches were similar, and accuracy for both methods was good. SEM-EDS analysis was also satisfactory for K. Agreement was poorer for Mn and Ti, which were present at trace concentrations. Increasing the number of particles examined by SEM-EDS should improve the analysis. SEM-EDS analysis of SPM from the Tamar Estuary, UK, revealed marked geochemical differences between particle sub-populations.

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We thank Andrew Arnold for assistance with the LiBO2 digest and Andrew Fisher for help with the ICP-AES analyses. This study was funded by the Leverhulme Trust (grant F/00568/H) for which it is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Mark F. Fitzsimons.

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Selected article from 6th European Meeting on Environmental Chemistry, Belgrade, 2005, organised by Prof. Dr. Branimir Jovancicevic and the European Association of Chemistry and the Environment (ACE,

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Haley, S.M., Tappin, A.D., Bond, P.R. et al. A comparison of SEM-EDS with ICP-AES for the quantitative elemental determination of estuarine particles. Environ Chem Lett 4, 235–238 (2006).

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  • Estuarine particles
  • Certified reference material
  • Quantification