Canadian Forest Service Publications

Environmental NMR – the early years. 2015. Preston, C.M. Magn. Reson. Chem. 53, 635–647.

Year: 2015

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 36202

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1002/mrc.4180

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Mark record


The application of NMR to environmental issues is now a vast and complex field, encompassing applications to all types of plant and soil samples, as well as their interactions with organic contaminants and metals. Although early work on solution 1H NMR of soil extracts started in the 1960s, serious progress had to wait for higher magnetic fields (at least 80 Mz for 1H) and FT methods. By the mid-1980s solution 13C and H NMR of humic and fulvicacids were well developed, along with solution 31P NMR of soil extracts. The early 1980s also saw rapid development of solid-state CPMAS NMR for 13C, but slower progress for 15N. Considerable process was also made in solution 31P, 19F and (to a lesser extent) 13C NMR to pesticides and environmental contaminants, but in many situations, routine application required at least 400MHz. Starting in the 1970s, solution and solid-state techniques were developed for oilseed analysis and monitoring of seed germinations, presaging current developments in gel-phase and multiphase NMR, This review tries to cover the exciting early years if environmental NMR, which started in pre-computer times far different than from today.

Plain Language Summary

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) has been an essential tool for organic chemistry since around 1950. In early decades, it was mainly used to determine the structures of small molecules in solution, but during the 1980s, advances in computer and magnet technology facilitated study of more complicated samples. Using soluble extracts, we could directly examine the formerly hidden carbon and phosphorous chemistry of soil organic matter and litter. It also became possible to analyse directly the carbon “fingerprint” of solid samples, such as litter, forest floor, decomposing wood and even mineral soil. Environmental NMR is now a vast and complex field, encompassing applications to all types of plant and soil samples, as well as their interactions with pesticides and organic contaminants. Yours truly at CFS (Victoria) was a leader in this field, and this publication traces its history, starting with tentative attempts in the 1960s and 1970s. I knew many of the players and still have most of the key papers. Few researchers read old papers, many are poorly accessible, and many of the pioneers have already passed away. This story starts in pre-computer times far different from today and its documentation is important, especially in the correct attribution of innovations.