An ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry index to estimate natural organic matter lability

Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2015 Dec 30;29(24):2385-401. doi: 10.1002/rcm.7400.


Rationale: Determining the chemical constituents of natural organic matter (NOM) by Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry (FTICRMS) remains the ultimate measure for probing its source material, evolution, and transport; however, lability and the fate of organic matter (OM) in the environment remain controversial. FTICRMS-derived elemental compositions are presented in this study to validate a new interpretative method to determine the extent of NOM lability from various environments.

Methods: FTICRMS data collected over the last decade from the same 9.4 tesla instrument using negative electrospray ionization at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida, was used to validate the application of a NOM lability index. Solid-phase extraction cartridges were used to isolate the NOM prior to FTICRMS; mass spectral peaks were calibrated internally by commonly identified NOM homologous series, and molecular formulae were determined for NOM composition and lability analysis.

Results: A molecular lability boundary (MLB) was developed from the FTICRMS molecular data, visualized from van Krevelen diagrams, dividing the data into more and less labile constituents. NOM constituents above the MLB at H/C ≥1.5 correspond to more labile material, whereas NOM constituents below the MLB, H/C <1.5, exhibit less labile, more recalcitrant character. Of all marine, freshwater, and glacial environments considered for this study, glacial ecosystems were calculated to contain the most labile OM.

Conclusions: The MLB extends our interpretation of FTICRMS NOM molecular data to include a metric of lability, and generally ranked the OM environments from most to least labile as glacial > marine > freshwater. Applying the MLB is useful not only for individual NOM FTICRMS studies, but also provides a lability threshold to compare and contrast molecular data with other FTICRMS instruments that survey NOM from around the world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antarctic Regions
  • Complex Mixtures / analysis*
  • Complex Mixtures / chemistry*
  • Fresh Water / chemistry
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared / methods*


  • Complex Mixtures