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Per Persson. Photo.

Per Persson


Per Persson. Photo.

Generation and properties of organic colloids extracted by water from the organic horizon of a boreal forest soil


  • Erika Andersson
  • Viktoriia Meklesh
  • Luigi Gentile
  • Abhishek Bhattacharya
  • Henrik Stålbrand
  • Anders Tunlid
  • Per Persson
  • Ulf Olsson

Summary, in English

Organic colloids are an important part of dissolved organic matter (DOM) yet many of their properties remain elusive. The main aims of this study were to assess how the colloidal properties of DOM extracted with water from an organic boreal soil horizon varied with the extraction protocol, and thereby provide insight into the nature of the DOM colloids and develop a mechanistic understanding of how the colloids were generated from the parent soil aggregates. This was accomplished by systematic variations of extraction temperature (4 °C–100 °C), time, mechanical agitation, and pH, together with a combination of chemical analyses, and light and X-ray scattering. Our results agreed with the previous identification of two main colloidal DOM species, one fractal cluster and a second, smaller colloidal DOM species described as chains or coils. Fractal clusters completely dominated the colloidal DOM in extracts from our soil at room temperature and below. Colloidal coils only existed in DOM extracted above room temperature, and their amount increased significantly between 50 °C–100 °C. Moreover, the temperature variation indicated that the fractal clusters partly dissolved into colloidal coils at elevated temperatures. Mechanical agitation at 4 °C significantly increased the amount of DOM extracted, increasing the concentrations of both fractal clusters and low-molecular weight organic compounds. While the clusters were extracted from agitated and non-agitated soil suspensions, the low molecular weight organics were mainly released by agitation. Based on the experimental observations, we propose a conceptual model where parent soil aggregates contain the fractal clusters in mobile and occluded forms, and that the occluded clusters co-exist with occluded low molecular weight organics. These occluded forms may be released by mechanical forces, increasing pH and temperature. At higher temperatures, the soil aggregates and the fractal clusters start to break up, and subsequently individual colloidal coils, presumably carbohydrates, disperse in the water phase. The model explains the origin and properties of the fractal clusters that completely dominate the colloidal DOM extracted from our soil at room temperature and below.


  • Physical Chemistry
  • Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC)
  • BECC: Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate
  • Biochemistry and Structural Biology
  • Microbial Ecology

Publishing year








Document type

Journal article




  • Physical Chemistry
  • Analytical Chemistry


  • H NMR
  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Organic colloids
  • Small-angle X-ray scattering
  • Soil aggregates
  • Water-extractable organic matter



Research group

  • Microbial Ecology


  • ISSN: 0016-7061