In 2004, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Geological Survey of Canada sampled and chemically analyzed soils along two transects across Canada and the USA in preparation for a planned soil geochemical survey of North America. This effort was a pilot study to test and refine sampling protocols, analytical methods, quality control protocols, and field logistics for the continental survey. A total of 220 sample sites were selected at approximately 40-km intervals along the two transects. The ideal sampling protocol at each site called for a sample from a depth of 0-5 cm and a composite of each of the O, A, and C horizons. The <2-mm fraction of each sample was analyzed for Al, Ca, Fe, K, Mg, Na, S, Ti, Ag, As, Ba, Be, Bi, Cd, Ce, Co, Cr, Cs, Cu, Ga, In, La, Li, Mn, Mo, Nb, Ni, P, Pb, Rb, Sb, Sc, Sn, Sr, Te, Th, Tl, U, V, W, Y, and Zn by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry following a near-total digestion in a mixture of HCl, HNO3, HClO4, and HF. Separate methods were used for Hg, Se, total C, and carbonate-C on this same size fraction. Only Ag, In, and Te had a large percentage of concentrations below the detection limit. Quality control (QC) of the analyses was monitored at three levels: the laboratory performing the analysis, the USGS QC officer, and the principal investigator for the study. This level of review resulted in an average of one QC sample for every 20 field samples, which proved to be minimally adequate for such a large-scale survey. Additional QC samples should be added to monitor within-batch quality to the extent that no more than 10 samples are analyzed between a QC sample. Only Cr (77%), Y (82%), and Sb (80%) fell outside the acceptable limits of accuracy (% recovery between 85 and 115%) because of likely residence in mineral phases resistant to the acid digestion. A separate sample of 0-5-cm material was collected at each site for determination of organic compounds. A subset of 73 of these samples was analyzed for a suite of 19 organochlorine pesticides by gas chromatography. Only three of these samples had detectable pesticide concentrations. A separate sample of A-horizon soil was collected for microbial characterization by phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA), soil enzyme assays, and determination of selected human and agricultural pathogens. Collection, preservation and analysis of samples for both organic compounds and microbial characterization add a great degree of complication to the sampling and preservation protocols and a significant increase to the cost for a continental-scale survey. Both these issues must be considered carefully prior to adopting these parameters as part of the soil geochemical survey of North America.
Additional publication details
Pilot studies for the North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project - Site selection, sampling protocols, analytical methods, and quality control protocols