Why is Calcite a Strong Phosphorus Sink in Freshwater? Investigating the Adsorption Mechanism Using Batch Experiments and Surface Complexation Modeling

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Calcium carbonate, Phosphates, Abiotic factors, Sediment dynamics, Nutrient

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One of the primary drivers of Phosphorus (P) limitation in aquatic systems is P adsorption to sediments. Sediments adsorb more P in freshwater compared to other natural solutions, but the mechanism driving this difference is poorly understood. To provide insights into the mechanism, we conducted batch experiments of P adsorption to calcite in freshwater and seawater, and used computer software to develop complexation models. Our simulations revealed three main reasons that, combining together, may explain the greater P adsorption to calcite in freshwater vs. seawater. First, aqueous speciation of P makes a difference. The ion pair CaPO4 is much more abundant in freshwater; although seawater has more Ca2+ ions, MgHPO40 and NaHPO40 are more thermodynamically favored. Second, the adsorbing species of P make a difference. The ion pair CaPO4 (the preferred adsorbate in freshwater) is able to access adsorption sites that are not available to HPO42− (the preferred adsorbate in seawater), thereby raising the maximum concentration of P that can adsorb to the calcite surface in freshwater. Third, water chemistry affects the competition among ions for surface sites. Other ions (including P) compete more effectively against CO32− when immersed in freshwater vs. seawater, even when the concentration of HCO3/CO32− is higher in freshwater vs. seawater. In addition, we found that under oligotrophic conditions, P adsorption is driven by the higher energy adsorption sites, and by the lower energy sites in eutrophic conditions. This study is the first to model P adsorption mechanisms to calcite in freshwater and seawater.

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Chemosphere, v. 286, issue Part 1, art. 131596