2021 journal article
The structure of natural biogenic iron (oxyhydr)oxides formed in circumneutral pH environments
GEOCHIMICA ET COSMOCHIMICA ACTA, 308, 237–255.
Biogenic iron (Fe) (oxyhydr)oxides (BIOS) partially control the cycling of organic matter, nutrients, and pollutants in soils and water via sorption and redox reactions. Although recent studies have shown that the structure of BIOS resembles that of two-line ferrihydrite (2LFh), we lack detailed knowledge of the BIOS local coordination environment and structure required to understand the drivers of BIOS reactivity in redox active environments. Therefore, we used a combination of microscopy, scattering, and spectroscopic methods to elucidate the structure of BIOS sampled from a groundwater seep in North Carolina and compare them to 2LFh. We also simulated the effects of wet-dry cycles by varying sample preparation (e.g., freezing, flash freezing with freeze drying, freezing with freeze drying and oven drying). In general, the results show that both the long- and short-range ordering in BIOS are structurally distinct and notably more disordered than 2LFh. Our structure analysis, which utilized Fe K-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy, Mössbauer spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, and pair distribution function analyses, showed that the BIOS samples were more poorly ordered than 2LFh and intimately mixed with organic matter. Furthermore, pair distribution function analyses resulted in coherent scattering domains for the BIOS samples ranging from 12-18 Å, smaller than those of 2LFh (21-27 Å), consistent with reduced ordering. Additionally, Fe L-edge XAS indicated that the local coordination environment of 2LFh samples consisted of minor amounts of tetrahedral Fe(III), whereas BIOS were dominated by octahedral Fe(III), consistent with depletion of the sites due to small domain size and incorporation of impurities (e.g., organic C, Al, Si, P). Within sample sets, the frozen freeze dried and oven dried sample preparation increased the crystallinity of the 2LFh samples when compared to the frozen treatment, whereas the BIOS samples remained more poorly crystalline under all sample preparations. This research shows that BIOS formed in circumneutral pH waters are poorly ordered and more environmentally stable than 2LFh.