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Revista Brasileira de Ciência do Solo

On-line version ISSN 1806-9657

Rev. Bras. Ciênc. Solo vol.33 no.4 Viçosa July/Aug. 2009 



Comparison of H/Al stoichiometry of mineral and organic soils in Brazil(1)


Comparação da estequiometria H/Al em solos minerais e orgânicos brasileiros



Daniel Vidal PerezI; Lúcia Helena Cunha dos AnjosII; Adierson Gilvani EbelingIII; Marcos Gervasio PereiraII

IResearcher, Embrapa Solos, Jardim Botânico 1024, CEP 22460-000 Rio de Janeiro (RJ). E-mail:
IIProfessor, Soils Dept., Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro - UFRRJ. Km 47 CEP 23890-000 Seropédica (RJ). E-mails:;
IIIPh.D. Student, Soils Dept., UFRRJ. E-mail:




Exchangeable Al has been used as a criterion for the calculation of lime requirement in several Brazilian States. However, the laboratory method with extraction by a 1 mol L-1 KCl solution followed by indirect alkaline titration is not accurate for some Brazilian soils, mainly in the case of soils with high organic matter content. The objective of this study was therefore to evaluate the stoichiometry of H+/Al3+ in KCl soil extracts. The results suggested that organically complexed Al is the main contributor to exchangeable acidity in soils enriched with organic matter. Liming recommendations for organic soils based exclusively on exchangeable Al determined by the NaOH titration method should therefore be revised.

Index terms: acid-base titration; ICP-OES; KCl; Histosols.


A determinação de alumínio trocável é utilizada como critério para cálculo de calagem em vários estados brasileiros. Contudo, a determinação indireta pela titulação com NaOH, após extração com solução de KCl 1 mol L-1, pode não ser adequada para certos tipos de solos brasileiros, notadamente aqueles que apresentem altos teores de carbono orgânico. Dessa forma, o principal objetivo deste trabalho foi avaliar a estequiometria da relação H+/Al3+ em extratos de KCl. Os resultados obtidos sugerem que o Al complexado pela matéria orgânica, em solos orgânicos, é o principal contribuinte para a acidez trocável obtida por titulação. Dessa forma, a recomendação de calagem em solos orgânicos baseado somente na determinação de alumínio trocável por titulação com NaOH deve ser revista.

Termos de indexação: titulação ácido-base; ICP-OES; KCl; Organossolos.




The determination of Al is a permanent concern of soil fertility management. Soil chemists are constantly testing methods that take into account the effective soil exchange capacity, organic matter content, texture, and the pH-dependent charges of various clays minerals (Menzies, 2003).

The titrimetric determination of Al3+ in 1 mol L-1 KCl soil extract using bromothymol blue as indicator has been widely used in Brazil (Raij et al., 1994; Bernardi et al., 2002). However, in fact, this procedure determines H+ in the KCl extract. This is recognized as the exchangeable acidity (Sposito, 1989). In this context, there is therefore no differentiation between the "exchangeable H+" and H+ developed by Al3+ hydrolysis.

From very acid mineral soils with neutral salt solutions, such as KCl, more Al3+ than H+ is extracted (Veith, 1977; Bloom et al., 2005), while in the organic soil horizons, the quantity of extractable H+ typically exceeds Al3+ (Bloom et al., 2005). But Sparks (2003) observed that much of the H+ that appears to be exchangeable in organic soils may be due to Al3+ hydrolysis in the organic matter resulting in H+.

An important tool for the differentiation between H+ and Al3+ is based on the use of the titration/back-titration procedure (Bertsch & Bloom, 1996). This method was first described by Yuan (1959). However, Coscione et al. (1998) showed the lower sensitivity of exchangeable Al3+ determined by back-titration. Al determination by spectrophotometric methods, such as ICP-OES, is doubtlessly more sensitive and reliable (Bertsch & Bloom, 1996). The purpose of this study was therefore the evaluation of H and Al in 1 mol L-1 KCl extracts to determine whether the theoretical value of 3 of Al hydrolysis predominates in the exchangeable acidity.



The method for exchangeable Al extraction of most Brazilian soil laboratories is based on the Al exchange from the surface of soil colloids using a non-buffered 1 mol L-1 KCl solution (Embrapa, 1997; Bernardi et al., 2002). A soil:solution mixture, ratio 1:10, was vigorously shaken for 5 min and left to stand overnight. Then a 25 mL aliquot of the supernatant was sampled and Al was indirectly quantified by titration with 0.025 mol L-1 NaOH using Bromothymol Blue as indicator. In this case, each mol of NaOH neutralizes 1 mol H+. Thus, the number of H+ mmoles in the 25 mL aliquot is (A x 0.025), where A is the volume (mL) of NaOH consumed in titration. Considering that the initial volume of KCl was 100 mL and the soil mass was 10 g, the result could be expressed as (A x 10) mmol kg-1 or A cmol kg-1 of H+. For further discussions in the text, this type of mass concentration unit will be used, since it expresses the real titration, i.e., H+ rather than Al3+. However, to clarify the use of titration in Al3+ routine analysis, the full calculation will be shown here. To express the result in terms of Al3+, it must be assumed that each Al3+ produces 3 H+ after complete hydrolysis. Thus, the result would be expressed as (A x 10)/3 mmol kg-1 or (A/3) cmol kg-1 of Al3+. Since the mmol Al3+ is equivalent to 3 mmolc Al3+, the final result will be expressed as (A x 10) mmolc kg-1 or A cmolc kg-1 of Al3+.

For a direct quantification of Al in the KCl extract, another aliquot of the supernatant was analyzed using an inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometer (Perkin Elmer Optima 3000). The operating frequency was 50-60 MHz at a power of 1,500 W with a torch argon flow rate of 15 L min-1. The selected Al atomic line was at 308.211 nm. A nitrogen gas purge flow rate of 5.0 L min-1 was used throughout the analysis. The sample flow rate was 2.0 L min-1. In this case, the result was expressed as B mg kg-1 of Al3+, considering that the initial volume of KCl was 100 mL and the soil mass was 10 g. Since the mmol of Al is, approximately, 27 mg, the result could be expressed as (B/27) mmol kg-1 or (B/270) cmol kg-1 of Al3+. For further discussions in the text, this kind of mass concentration unit will be used, since it expresses the real mass concentration of the element. However, to clarify the use of spectrophotometric determinations in Al3+ routine analysis, we will show the full calculation. Since the mmol Al3+ is equivalent to 3 mmolc Al3+, the final result will be expressed as (B/9) mmolc kg-1 or (B/90) cmolc kg-1 of Al3+.

In the case of soils with high organic matter content, Al extraction by CuCl2 0.2 mol L-1 was performed according to Bertsch & Bloom (1996). The Al determination followed the ICP-OES procedure described above.

Thirty seven acid soil samples were selected representing different soil classes (Oxisol, Ultisol, Inceptisol, Entisol, Histosol) from different Brazilian States (RJ, AM, MS, SP, AL, PB, PE, PR, MG, and DF). Their main properties are shown in table 1.



In a first approach, it is possible to arrange the soil samples in two groups (Tables 2 and 3). The first (Table 2) consisted of 18 horizons of mineral soils where the main dominant clay mineralogy is kaolinite and/or iron/aluminum oxy-hydroxides. In this group, the mean H/Al ratio was around 3.4. In addition to the potential titration errors in a routine aluminum analyses, the presence of soluble Mn2+ and Fe3+ in KCl soil extract (Table 2) could represent a small contribution of H+ through the hydrolysis of these metals, which would explain a positive variation from the expected 3.0 ratio. Our results corroborate the findings of McLean (1976), Veith (1977) and Bloom et al. (2005) that most of the protons measured in the salt extract of mineral soils, i.e., the exchangeable acidity, may come from the hydrolysis of exchangeable Al3+.

The second group (Table 3) was composed of organic horizons with a H/Al ratio of around 0.4. In this case, the lower H+ concentration suggested that the "exchangeable H+" pool was not the major part of exchangeable acidity in the studied organic soils. This may be explained by the findings of Ross et al. (2008). They showed that the quantity of exchangeable H+ may be insignificant at a pH above 4.5. The mean pH of the studied organic soils was around 4.9 (Table 3).

Another fact that corroborates the insignificant contribution of exchangeable H+ to exchangeable acidity is related to the stoichiometry of the organic-bound Al. The high values of CuCl2-extracted Al compared with those obtained by KCl (Table 3) are generally related to organic-bound Al (Shuman, 1990; Soon, 1993; Barra et al., 2001). In this case, there is a relative preference for hydroxyl-Al ions over Al3+ (Schnitzer & Skinner, 1963; Bloom et al., 1979). Hargrove & Thomas (1982) showed that as the Al content of the organic matter increased, the effective valence of the adsorbed Al varied from 2.12 to 0.93. Nissinen et al. (1999) and Simonsson (2000) reported binding stoichiometry values ranging from 1.1 and 2.4 in literature. Therefore, the forced hydrolysis of organic-bound Al by alkaline titration should generate lower H/Al ratio values.

The results obtained in the mineral soils showed that most of the soil exchangeable acidity is primarily due to Al3+. However, in the case of the studied organic soils, the contribution of hydroxyl Al bound to the organic matter is probably the main pool of exchangeable acidity. The contribution of exchangeable H+ does not seem to be relevant for the studied soils. Considering that most authors indicate that the toxic aluminum is Al3+ and the monomeric Al-hydroxy species (Bloom et al., 2005), all liming recommendations for organic soils based exclusively on exchangeable Al determined by NaOH-titration should therefore be revised. These findings corroborate the studies of Pereira et al. (2005) and Ebeling et al. (2008). They pointed out the need of new analytical routine methods to properly study and monitor the management of Histosols in Brazil. Besides, the relationship between exchangeable acidity determined by acid-based titration and Al determined directly by spectrophotometry (AAS or ICP) could be a useful index to characterize organic horizons.



The authors are grateful to CNPq and FAPERJ for the grants and funding support.



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Recebido para publicação em novembro de 2008 e aprovado em maio de 2009.



(1) Work presented at the 18th World Congress of Soil Science hold at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

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