Morphological characteristics of fulvic acid fractions observed by atomic force microscopy

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Structural studies on fulvic acids (FAs) are significantly important since they are believed to be involved in many environmentally important processes, such as adsorption and transportation of organic and inorganic pollutants. In this research, morphology characteristics of FAs were studied by atomic force microscopy (AFM). FAs that were isolated from three soil layers (A1, B and C) of the same vertical profile in a Korean pine forest were divided into four fractions (FA-1, FA-2, FA-3 and FA-4) by a sequence of successive elution processes. Most of FAs appeared as a platy particle in the AFM topographic and phase images. Among these platy particles, some have a regular shape, such as round flake and oblong flake; others have irregular structures, such as sand heaps. Particle morphologies of different FA fractions, including hydrophilic and hydrophobic FAs fractions, were similar. However, particle sizes and distributions of FA fractions from different soil layers at the same vertical profile did differ. Particle sizes of hydrophobic FAs were relevant with respect to the soil depth. They were increased with the increasing of the soil depth. FAs from C layers were more heterogeneous with respect to the A1 and B. Our results may foster a better understanding for the relevance between the morphology of FA particles with the soil layers and the soil depth.

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