Simple Diffusion Methods for Determination of Nonexchangeable Ammonium in Soils

V. L.N. Nunes, R. L. Mulvaney, K. L. Griesheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Core Ideas Existing HF methods are labor-intensive and do not recover recently fixed NH4 +-N. Diffusion techniques were developed that are simpler and more quantitative. These techniques permit 15N analyses of fixed NH4 +-N in tracer studies. The determination of fixed ammonium (NH4 +) normally involves hydrofluoric acid (HF) digestion to decompose clay minerals following a rigorous pretreatment to control interference by organic nitrogen (N); however, the methods are tedious and time-consuming, and recoveries can be incomplete if the soil under analysis was recently fertilized with ammoniacal N. Diffusion methods were developed to simplify and improve this determination, which utilize a potassium chloride (KCl) pretreatment to clearly differentiate exchangeable from nonexchangeable NH4 +. In these methods, the HF digest is treated with magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) to neutralize residual acidity and precipitate magnesium fluoride (MgF2), and fixed NH4 +-N is then liberated with magnesium oxide (MgO) as diffusion is performed on an orbital shaker for 3 h at 45 to 50°C (Method A) or for 3 d at 20 to 25°C (Method B). When averaged across 16 diverse soils, both diffusion methods were in close agreement with the Silva-Bremner technique using a potassium hypobromite (KOBr) pretreatment, although significant discrepancies were more common for Method A than B, indicating greater potential for organic interferences. In a study to compare recoveries of recently fixed 15NH4 +-N, Method A was significantly higher than the procedure of Silva and Bremner. The latter finding leaves no doubt about the need to avoid the use of KOBr for measuring fixed NH4 + in soils recently fertilized with ammoniacal N, and demonstrates that the methods described will be advantageous for tracer research involving 15N.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1421-1430
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science

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