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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Effect of soil properties on gold- and platinum nanoparticle mobility

Reith, Frank; Cornelis, Geert


Soils overlying buried gold (Au) and platinum (Pt) deposits are often Au/Pt-anomalous, widening exploration footprints. This may be a result of the dispersion of (bio) geochemically formed Au/Pt nanoparticles and their sorption/deposition by solid soil phases. However, the influence of soil properties on nanoparticle dispersion, sorption and partitioning are little understood. To assess the partitioning and sorption behaviour of Au- and Pt nanoparticles, soils were spiked with spherical, citrate-stabilized Au- and Pt nanoparticles (diameter: 10-12 nm, final concentration 100 mu g kg(-1)). Soil slurries (1:10, w:w, soil: deionized water) were incubated at 22 degrees C on an end-over-end shaker for 28 days. Gold/Pt concentrations were measured in 0.45 mu m and 1 kDa filtered solutions using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. Neither Pt nor Au were detected in 1 kDa filtrates. Between 10.3 and 98.7 wt% of Au/Pt was sorbed to solid soil phases. Clay, C-org, Mg, Mn, Fe and Ca contents of soils were significant predictors of Au/Pt-nanoparticle sorption, with clay content explaining > 80% of variation within the Au sorption dataset. Partitioning of sorbed nanoparticles between solid phases was assessed using selective sequential extractions. In all soils 1-20 wt% of Au/Pt was detected in watery extracts. A further 1-25 wt% were associated with the easily remobilizable fraction. The majority of sorbed Au/Pt nanoparticles were sorbed to the organic matter (OM, 53-77 wt% for Pt and 14-80 wt% for Au) and the Fe/Mn-oxides (up to 42 wt%). These results show that: i) Au- and Pt nanoparticles are stable and can remain highly mobile/dispersible in soil solutions, and ii) elevated clay, C-org and Fe/Mn-oxide contents decrease, whereas elevated sand contents and pH increase their mobility. Across all soils, OM and clays were the most important sorbent of Au/Pt nanoparticles, suggesting that the separation of clays and OM, and analyses of their Au/Pt-contents may enhance the contrast of geochemical footprints.


Gold; Platinum; Nanoparticles; Mobility; Soil; Partitioning

Published in

Chemical Geology
2017, Volume: 466, pages: 446-453

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