Fractionation of Organic Matter Due to Reaction with Ferrihydrite: Coprecipitation versus Adsorption

In soil and water, ferrihydrite frequently forms in the presence of dissolved organic matter. This disturbs crystal growth and gives rise to coprecipitation of ferrihydrite and organic matter. To compare the chemical fractionation of organic matter during coprecipitation with the fractionation involved in adsorption onto pristine ferrihydrite surfaces we prepared ferrihydrite−organic matter associations by adsorption and coprecipitation using (i) a forest-floor extract or (ii) a sulfonated lignin. The reaction products were studied by 13C CPMAS NMR, FTIR, and analysis of hydrolyzable neutral polysaccharides. Relative to the original forest-floor extract, the ferrihydrite-associated organic matter was enriched in polysaccharides, especially when adsorption took place. Moreover, mannose and glucose were bound preferentially to ferrihydrite, while fucose, arabinose, xylose, and galactose accumulated in the supernatant. This fractionation of sugar monomers was more pronounced during coprecipitation and led to an enhanced ratio of (galactose + mannose)/(arabinose + xylose). Experiments with lignin revealed that the ferrihydrite-associated material was enriched in its aromatic components but had a lower ratio of phenolic C to aromatic C than the original lignin. A compositional difference between the adsorbed and coprecipitated lignin is obvious from a higher contribution of methoxy C in the coprecipitated material. Coprecipitated organic matter may thus differ in amount and composition from adsorbed organic matter.