Atomic-level studies of the depletion in reactive sites during clay mineral dissolution

Rebecca L. Sanders, Nancy M. Washton, Karl T. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Clay mineral dissolution rates can continuously decrease over time as reactive sites located on edges are preferentially depleted under certain pH conditions. Changes in reactive surface area and the difficulties in quantifying this elusive variable have been cited as one key reason for the complexity in developing accurate rate equations for the dissolution of clay minerals. Recently, a solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) method has been proposed for counting the number of reactive surface sites on a defined quantity of a clay mineral. Using this solid-state NMR proxy, changes in reactive surface area were monitored for a series of batch dissolution experiments of low-defect kaolinite KGa-1b and Ca-rich bentonite STx-1b, a montmorillonite-rich clay containing an opal-CT impurity, at 21 °C and initial pH 3. Kaolinite specific surface area as determined from BET gas isotherm data did not change within error during 80. days of dissolution whereas bentonite specific surface area decreased rapidly to about 50% of the original value as interlayer cation concentrations changed. The solid-state NMR proxy revealed decreases in the number of reactive surface sites per gram of kaolinite and bentonite as a function of dissolution time, presumed to be from the preferential dissolution of reactive sites on edges at initial pH 3. This depletion of reactive edge sites can be tied to a concomitant decrease in the rates of release of Si and Al into solution. The quantity of reactive sites can be used to estimate the dissolution rates of kaolinite and bentonite as well as estimate trends in dissolution rates of other clay minerals. These results further highlight the need to quantify the number of reactive sites present on a per gram basis as well as characterize their depletion with time to develop and use dissolution rate models for clay minerals and other heterogeneous materials in the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-116
Number of pages17
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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