Schwertmannite in soil materials: Limits of detection of acidified ammonium oxalate method and differential X-ray diffraction

Chamindra L. Vithana, Leigh A. Sullivan, Richard T. Bush, Edward D. Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Schwertmannite is a secondary iron mineral, found in acid mine drainage (AMD) and acid sulfate soils (ASS), that generates acidity when it transforms to stable mineral phases. Acidity liberated during schwertmannite transformation can seriously diminish water quality and soil health. Acidified ammonium oxalate (AAO) extraction in the dark coupled with differential X-ray diffraction (DXRD) analysis is routinely used to identify and to quantify poorly crystalline iron oxide phases such as schwertmannite in AMD environments. However, management of ASS environments is largely impacted due to lack of reliable methods to identify/quantify schwertmannite in soil materials. Our study aimed to evaluate the 15. min AAO extraction method to identify/quantify schwertmannite in soil materials. We extracted soil samples spiked with synthetic and natural schwertmannite (termed as natural organic rich schwertmannitic material) with acidified ammonium oxalate (AAO) for 15. min. We also examined soil samples spiked with schwertmannite through the DXRD analysis under ideal conditions assuming that only schwertmannite would dissolve during the extraction. Our data show that synthetic schwertmannite dissolved partially during the 15. min AAO extraction and as a result the recovered Fe content from schwertmannite-spiked soils was underestimated by ~. 20%. The data also show that soil materials could also influence the recovery of schwertmannite. Fe/S molar ratios of schwertmannite spiked at higher rates (2% and 5%) were closer to the expected ratios. In addition to schwertmannite, goethite and other unidentified minerals in natural organic rich schwertmannitic material also dissolved during the 15. min extraction time. The DXRD analysis data show that schwertmannite in soil materials at contents >. 5% may be identifiable through this approach. Our findings highlight that both the 15. min AAO extraction procedure and the DXRD analysis have limited applicability towards detecting schwertmannite accurately in soil materials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-60
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


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