Direct-diffusion methods for inorganic-nitrogen analysis of soil

S. A. Khan, R. L. Mulvaney, R. G. Hoeft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Determinations of exchangeable NH4, NO3, and NO2 in soil normally require the preparation of an extract, which is usually obtained with a neutral salt solution such as 2 M KCl. In cases where analytical speed and convenience are key factors, as in routine soil testing, a more practical approach would be to carry out the determination directly on the soil sample itself. Studies were conducted to ascertain whether this approach could be employed using Mason-jar diffusion methods previously developed for inorganic-N analysis of soil extracts. Direct diffusions were performed with MgO to recover NH4-N, or with MgO and Devarda's alloy to recover (NH4+NO3+NO2)-N, from 1- to 5-g samples of a wide variety of air-dried soils, following treatment of the soil with sufficient 2 M KCl to give a 1:10 ratio of soil to solution. Up to 4 mg of inorganic N was recovered quantitatively in 18 h to 6 d at room temperature, or in 1.75 to 5.5 h with gentle heating on a hot plate (45-50 °C). Analyses by direct diffusion were in close agreement (r = 0.993-0.999) with results obtained by diffusion of soil extracts, and recoveries ranged from 97 to 102% when direct diffusions were performed on samples that had been treated with NH4-N or NO3-N. Besides being quantitative, direct diffusions were found to have potential for N-isotope analysis. In diffusing 15N-treated samples, isotope-ratio analyses of NH4-N or (NH4+NO3+NO2)-N were accurate to within 3%. The latter finding virtually precludes interference by labile organic N or nonexchangeable NH4-N; however, interference did lead to an increase in inorganic-N analyses when diffusion was prolonged beyond the recommended period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1083-1089
Number of pages7
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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