Soils IssuesHUMIC SUBSTANCES: CONSIDERATIONS OF COMPOSITIONS, ASPECTS OF STRUCTURE, AND ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCESHayes, Michael H.B.1; Clapp, C. Edward2Author Information 1Department of Chemical and Environmental Sciences, University of Limerick, Ireland. E-mail: [email protected] 2USDA-ARS & Dept. of Soil Water and Climate, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108. Dr. Clapp is corresponding author. E-mail: [email protected] Received Aug. 20, 2001; accepted Aug. 21, 2001. Soil Science: November 2001 - Volume 166 - Issue 11 - p 723-737 Buy Abstract Humic substances (HS) are the major components of the mixture of materials that comprise soil organic matter, and these substances, which are by far the most abundant organic materials in the environment, are themselves complicated mixtures of biologically transformed organic debris. However, it is likely that many of the solubilization properties of the mixtures arise from the presence of nonhumic components that are intimately associated with the HS and that cannot be separated effectively from these components. Separation and fractionation techniques are improving, and most of the instruments needed to advance awareness of the composition and aspects of structures are now in place. There is a need, however, to review the operational definitions that now apply and to put in place a classification system that will take into account origins and some compositional characteristics. The broad based definition of humin is especially unsatisfactory. This umbrella term covers a mixture of materials that are insoluble in aqueous systems and that contain nonhumic components such as long chain hydrocarbons, esters, acids, and even relatively polar structures of microbial origin, such as polysaccharides and glomalin, that can be associated with the nonpolar moieties and with soil minerals, as well as plant components that are highly resistant to decomposition. Advances in the humic sciences in recent times have been impressive, and the questioning of ‘ingrained’ theories and concepts is opening vistas through which we are seeing new concepts of size, shape, and association; the remarkable developments in nuclear magnetic resonance are also allowing better interpretations of compositions and of aspects of structures. From these advances will emerge a more fundamental understanding of HS functions in such important roles as the stabilization of soil aggregates, the binding of anthropogenic organic chemicals, and the sequestration of C from atmospheric CO2. The latter function is especially important at this time because we need to know why some soils sequester more C than others and why the qualities (or composition and structure) of HS in some soils are different from those in others. © 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.