Discussion 512 Determination of extractable sulphur

A helpful discussion of sulphur in soils and its availability to plants is found in Combs etal. (1998) and Rowell (1994, pp. 213-215). Plants absorb sulphur mainly in the form of sulphate, which is the main form of sulphur occurring in the soil solution. The SO4-S is therefore the fraction usually measured. Over 90% of the surface soil sulphur occurs in combination with organic molecules from where it is mineralized to sulphate. The SO4-S concentration has been found to increase from approximately 5 kg ha-1 in the first 30 cm depth of a Wisconsin soil, to approximately 10 kg ha-1 in the 30-60 cm profile, and approximately 15 kg ha-1 in the 60-90 cm profile. It is therefore recommended that subsoil, as well as topsoil, cores are also taken for analysis. There are other sources of sulphur available to the plant, such as the seasonal effect of precipitation of sulphate-containing rain, especially near industrial areas and conurbations, and the sulphur in applied manure. There is also the sulphur adsorbed by clays and oxides of iron and aluminium, which will increase as the pH decreases below 6.5. The extractant may be water or 10 mM calcium chloride solution, but the latter may displace some adsorbed sulphate. In acidic soils, the available sulphur should include the adsorbed sulphate, therefore calcium phosphate [Ca(H2PO4)2] or potassium phosphate (KH2PO4), which will extract the adsorbed sulphate, are the extractants of choice. Calcium phosphate is preferred, because the calcium ion depresses the solubility of organic matter to produce a clearer filtrate. This is the method described below. For good reproducibility, it is essential to duplicate the conditions used to form the suspension. These include the temperature and the standing time before measuring the absorbance. A known quantity of sulphate 'seed solution' is usually added to improve the reproducibility of the sus pension formation. This not only provides a nucleus to assist the uniform growth of barium sulphate crystals, but also ensures that the solubility product of barium sulphate has been exceeded in the final solution, and thus avoids a concave standard curve in the lower range. Acacia powder (gum acacia, gum arabic) is added to the 'seed solution' to stabilize the BaSO4 precipitate when larger amounts of sulphate are encountered. It may be omitted for soils low in sulphate. The presence of HCl in the seed solution prevents the co-precipitation of barium carbonate, phosphate or hydroxide, which would add to the turbidity.

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