In-Situ Differentiation of Acidic and Non-Acidic Tundra via Portable X-ray Fluorescence (PXRF) Spectrometry

Somsubhra Chakraborty, David C. Weindorf, Gary A.R.Y.J. Michaelson, Chien Lu Ping, Ashok Choudhury, Tarek Kandakji, Autumn Acree, Akriti Sharma, Dandan Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Frozen soils or those with permafrost cover large areas of the earth's surface and support unique vegetative ecosystems. Plants growing in such harsh conditions have adapted to small niches, which allow them to survive. In northern Alaska, USA, both moist acidic and non-acidic tundra occur, yet determination of frozen soil pHs currently requires thawing of the soil so that electrometric pH methods can be utilized. Contrariwise, a portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF) spectrometer was used in this study to assess elemental abundances and relate those characteristics to soil pH through predictive multiple linear regressions. Two operational modes, Soil Mode and Geochem Mode, were utilized to scan frozen soils in-situ and under laboratory conditions, respectively, after soil samples were dried and ground. Results showed that lab scanning produced optimal results with adjusted coefficient of determination (R2) of 0.88 and 0.33 and root mean squared errors (RMSEs) of 0.87 and 0.34 between elemental data and lab-determined pH for Soil Mode and Geochem Mode, respectively. Even though the presence of ice attenuated fluoresced radiation under field conditions, adjusted R2 and RMSEs between the datasets still provided reasonable model generalization (e.g., 0.73 and 0.49 for field Geochem Mode). Principal component analysis qualitatively separated multiple sampling sites based on elemental data provided by PXRF, reflecting differences in the chemical composition of the soils studied. Summarily, PXRF can be used for in-situ determination of soil pH in arctic environments without the need for sample modification and thawing. Furthermore, use of PXRF for determination of soil pH may provide higher sample throughput than traditional eletrometric-based methods, while generating elemental data useful for the prediction of multiple soil parameters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-560
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Frozen soil
  • Gelisols
  • Geochem mode
  • Proximal sensing
  • Soil mode
  • Soil pH determination


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