On the use of loss-on-ignition techniques to quantify fluvial particulate organic carbon

Magdalena Grove, Gary Bilotta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The fluvial flux of carbon (C) from terrestrial to marine environments represents an important component of the global C-cycle, which can transfer C from the atmosphere to sedimentary storage. Fluvial fluxes of C are also an essential resource for freshwater ecosystems, critical for habitat heterogeneity and function. As such it is crucial that we are able to quantify this flux accurately. However, at present there are a number of different techniques used to quantify concentrations of fluvial C, and these techniques vary in their accuracy. In this article, we compare particulate organic carbon (POC) measurements derived from two commonly-used techniques; a simple combustion and loss-on-ignition (LOI) technique, and an oxidative–combustion and carbon dioxide (CO2) detection technique. The techniques were applied to water samples collected from 10 contrasting reference-condition, temperate river ecosystems. The POC measurements derived from the LOI technique were up to 16 times higher (average four times higher), than those derived from the oxidative–combustion and CO2 detection technique. This difference was highly variable both across the different river ecosystems and within each river ecosystem over time, suggesting that there is no simple way of converting the mass measured by LOI to estimates of fluvial POC. It is suggested that the difference in POC measured by these two techniques is a consequence of: (1) the loss of inorganic carbon at LOI combustion temperatures of > 425 °C, (2) the potential during the LOI combustion stage to lose hygroscopic and intercrystalline water, not completely driven off by the drying stage at temperatures of < 150 °C, and (3) the variable C content of fluvial organic matter, meaning that the simple application of a fixed correction factor to values obtained from the LOI technique may not be appropriate. These findings suggest that oxidative–combustion and CO2detection techniques are preferential for quantifying fluvial POC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146-1152
Number of pages7
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • loss-on-ignition
  • particulate organic carbon
  • suspended sediment
  • elemental analyser
  • volatile organic matter


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