Cupric Oxide (CuO) Oxidation Detects Pyrogenic Carbon in Burnt Organic Matter and Soils

Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF


Attribute NameValues
  • Wildfire greatly impacts the composition and quantity of organic carbon stocks within watersheds. Most methods used to measure the contributions of fire altered organic carbon–i.e. pyrogenic organic carbon (Py-OC) in natural samples are designed to quantify specific fractions such as black carbon or polyaromatic hydrocarbons. In contrast, the CuO oxidation procedure yields a variety of products derived from a variety of precursors, including both unaltered and thermally altered sources. Here, we test whether or not the benzene carboxylic acid and hydroxy benzoic acid (BCA) products obtained by CuO oxidation provide a robust indicator of Py-OC and compare them to non-Py-OC biomarkers of lignin. O and A horizons from microcosms were burned in the laboratory at varying levels of fire severity and subsequently incubated for 6 months. All soils were analyzed for total OC and N and were analyzed by CuO oxidation. All BCAs appeared to be preserved or created to some degree during burning while lignin phenols appeared to be altered or destroyed to varying extents dependent on fire severity. We found two specific CuO oxidation products, o-hydroxybenzoic acid (oBd) and 1,2,4-benzenetricarboxylic acid (BTC2) that responded strongly to burn severity and withstood degradation during post-burning microbial incubations. Interestingly, we found that benzene di- and tricarboxylic acids (BDC and BTC, respectively) were much more reactive than vanillyl phenols during the incubation as a possible result of physical protection of vanillyl phenols in the interior of char particles or CuO oxidation derived BCAs originating from biologically available classes of Py-OC. We found that the ability of these compounds to predict relative Py-OC content in burned samples improved when normalized by their respective BCA class (i.e. benzene monocarboxylic acids (BA) and BTC, respectively) and when BTC was normalized to total lignin yields (BTC:Lig). The major trends in BCAs imparted by burning persisted through a 6 month incubation suggesting that fire severity had first order control on BCA and lignin composition. Using original and published BCA data from soils, sediments, char, and interfering compounds we found that BTC:Lig and BTC2:BTC were able to distinguish Py-OC from compounds such as humic materials, tannins, etc. The BCAs released by the CuO oxidation procedure increase the functionality of this method in order to examine the relative contribution of Py-OC in geochemical samples.
Resource Type
Date Available
Date Issued
  • Hatten, J., & Goñi, M. (2016). Cupric Oxide (CuO) Oxidation Detects Pyrogenic Carbon in Burnt Organic Matter and Soils. PLoS ONE, 11(3), e0151957. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151957
Journal Title
Journal Volume
  • 11
Journal Issue/Number
  • 3
Academic Affiliation
Rights Statement
Related Items
Funding Statement (additional comments about funding)
  • This research was supported by NSF grant numbers #0903748 and #0628487.
Peer Reviewed



This work has no parents.