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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 30 No. 6, p. 2202-2206
    Received: Feb 22, 2001

    * Corresponding author(s): mhe@lanl.gov


Measuring Total Soil Carbon with Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS)

  1. David A. Cremersa,
  2. Michael H. Ebinger *b,
  3. David D. Breshearsb,
  4. Pat J. Unkeferc,
  5. Susan A. Kammerdienerb,
  6. Monty J. Ferrisa,
  7. Kathryn M. Catlettb and
  8. Joel R. Brownd
  1. a Advanced Chemical Diagnostics and Instrumentation Group, MS J565
    b Environmental Dynamics and Spatial Analysis Group, MS J495
    c Bioscience Division, B-S1, MS E529, Los Alamos National Lab., Los Alamos, NM 87545
    d USDA-NRCS Jornada Experimental Range, P.O. Box 30003, MSC 3JER, New Mexico State Univ., Las Cruces, NM 88003-8003


Improving estimates of carbon inventories in soils is currently hindered by lack of a rapid analysis method for total soil carbon. A rapid, accurate, and precise method that could be used in the field would be a significant benefit to researchers investigating carbon cycling in soils and dynamics of soil carbon in global change processes. We tested a new analysis method for predicting total soil carbon using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). We determined appropriate spectral signatures and calibrated the method using measurements from dry combustion of a Mollisol from a cultivated plot. From this calibration curve we predicted carbon concentrations in additional samples from the same soil and from an Alfisol collected in a semiarid woodland and compared these predictions with additional dry combustion measurements. Our initial tests suggest that the LIBS method rapidly and efficiently measures soil carbon with excellent detection limits (∼300 mg/kg), precision (4–5%), and accuracy (3–14%). Initial testing shows that LIBS measurements and dry combustion analyses are highly correlated (adjusted r 2 = 0.96) for soils of distinct morphology, and that a sample can be analyzed by LIBS in less than one minute. The LIBS method is readily adaptable to a field-portable instrument, and this attribute—in combination with rapid and accurate sample analysis—suggests that this new method offers promise for improving measurement of total soil carbon. Additional testing of LIBS is required to understand the effects of soil properties such as texture, moisture content, and mineralogical composition (i.e., silicon content) on LIBS measurements.

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Copyright © 2001. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.30:2202–2206.