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High field NMR spectroscopy and FTICR mass spectrometry: powerful discovery tools for the molecular level characterization of marine dissolved organic matter from the South Atlantic Ocean

Author(s): N. Hertkorn | M. Harir | B. P. Koch | B. Michalke | P. Grill | P. Schmitt-Kopplin

Journal: Biogeosciences Discussions
ISSN 1810-6277

Volume: 9;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 745;
Date: 2012;
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Non target high resolution organic structural spectroscopy of marine dissolved organic matter (DOM) isolated on 27 November 2008 by means of solid phase extraction (SPE) from four different depths in the South Atlantic Ocean off the Angola coast (3.1° E; −17.7° S; Angola basin) provided molecular level information of complex unknowns with unprecedented coverage and resolution. The sampling was intended to represent major characteristic oceanic regimes of general significance: 5 m (FISH; near surface photic zone), 48 m (FMAX; fluorescence maximum), 200 m (upper mesopelagic zone) and 5446 m (30 m above ground). 800 MHz proton (1H) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) 1H NMR, spectra were least affected by fast and differential transverse NMR relaxation and produced at first similar looking, rather smooth bulk NMR envelopes reflecting intrinsic averaging from massive signal overlap. Visibly resolved NMR signatures were most abundant in surface DOM but contributed at most a few percent to the total 1H NMR integral and were mainly limited to unsaturated and singly oxygenated carbon chemical environments. The relative abundance and variance of resolved signatures between samples was maximal in the aromatic region; in particular, the aromatic resolved NMR signature of the deep ocean sample at 5446 m was considerably different from that of all other samples. When scaled to equal total NMR integral, 1H NMR spectra of the four marine DOM samples revealed considerable variance in abundance for all major chemical environments across the entire range of chemical shift. Abundance of singly oxygenated CH units and acetate derivatives declined from surface to depth whereas aliphatics and carboxyl-rich alicyclic molecules (CRAM) derived molecules increased in abundance. Surface DOM contained a remarkably lesser abundance of methyl esters than all other marine DOM, likely a consequence of photodegradation from direct exposure to sunlight. All DOM showed similar overall 13C NMR resonance envelopes typical of an intricate mixture of natural organic matter with noticeable peaks of anomerics and C-aromatics carbon whereas oxygenated aromatics and ketones were of too low abundance to result in noticeable humps at the S/N ratio provided. Integration according to major substructure regimes revealed continual increase of carboxylic acids and ketones from surface to deep marine DOM, reflecting a progressive oxygenation of marine DOM, with concomitant decline of carbohydrate-related substructures. Isolation of marine DOM by means of SPE likely discriminated against carbohydrates but produced materials with beneficial NMR relaxation properties: a substantial fraction of dissolved organic molecules present allowed the acquisition of two-dimensional NMR spectra with exceptional resolution. JRES, COSY and HMBC NMR spectra were capable to depict resolved molecular signatures of compounds exceeding a certain minimum abundance. Here, JRES spectra suffered from limited resolution whereas HMBC spectra were constrained because of limited S/N ratio. Hence, COSY NMR spectra appeared best suited to depict organic complexity in marine DOM. The intensity and number of COSY cross peaks was found maximal for sample FMAX and conformed to about 1500 molecules recognizable in variable abundance. Surface DOM (FISH) produced a slightly (~25%) lesser number of cross peaks with remarkable positional accordance to FMAX (~80% conforming COSY cross peaks were found in FISH and FMAX). With increasing water depth, progressive attenuation of COSY cross peaks was caused by fast transverse NMR relaxation of yet unknown origin. However, most of the faint COSY cross peak positions of deep water DOM conformed to those observed in the surface DOM, suggesting the presence of a numerous set of identical molecules throughout the entire ocean column even if the investigated water masses belonged to different oceanic regimes and currents. Aliphatic chemical environments of methylene (CH2) and methyl (CH3) in marine DOM were nicely discriminated in DEPT HSQC NMR spectra. Classical methyl groups terminating aliphatic chains represented only ~15% of total methyl in all marine DOM investigated. Chemical shift anisotropy from carbonyl derivatives (i.e. most likely carboxylic acids) displaced aliphatic methyl 1H NMR resonances up to δH ~1.6 ppm, indicative of alicyclic geometry which furnishes more numerous short range connectivities for any given atom pairs. A noticeable fraction of methyl (~2%) was bound to olefinic carbon. The comparatively large abundance of methyl ethers in surface marine DOM contrasted with DOM of freshwater and soil origin. The chemical diversity of carbohydrates as indicated by H2CO-groups (δC ~ 62 ± 2 ppm) and anomerics (δC ~ 102 ± 7 ppm) exceeded that of freshwater and soil DOM considerably. HSQC NMR spectra were best suited to identify chemical environments of methin carbon (CH) and enabled discrimination of olefinic and aromatic cross peaks (δC > 110 ppm) and those of doubly oxygenated carbon (δC < 110 ppm). The abundance of olefinic protons exceeded that of aromatic protons; comparison of relative HSQC cross peak integrals indicated larger abundance of olefinic carbon than aromatic carbon in all marine DOM as well. A considerable fraction of olefins seemed isolated and likely sterically constrained as judged from small nJHH couplings associated with those olefins. High S/N ratio and fair resolution of TOCSY and HSQC cross peaks enabled unprecedented depiction of sp2-hybridized carbon chemical environments in marine DOM with discrimination of isolated and conjugated olefins as well as α, β-unsaturated double bonds. However, contributions from five-membered heterocycles (furan, pyrrol and thiophene derivatives) even if very unlikely from given elemental C/N and C/S ratios and upfield proton NMR chemical shift (δH < 6.5 ppm) could not yet been ruled out entirely. In addition to classical aromatic DOM, like benzene derivatives and phenols, six-membered nitrogen heterocycles were found prominent contributors to the downfield region of proton chemical shift (δH > 8 ppm). Specifically, a rather confined HSQC cross peak at δH/δC = 8.2/164 ppm indicated a limited set of nitrogen heterocycles with several nitrogen atoms in analogy to RNA derivatives present in all four marine DOM. Appreciable amounts of extended HSQC and TOCSY cross peaks derived from various key polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon substructures suggested the presence of previously proposed but NMR invisible thermogenic organic matter (TMOC) in marine DOM at all water depths. Eventually, olefinic unsaturation in marine DOM will be more directly traceable to ultimate biogenic precursors than aromatic unsaturation of which a substantial fraction originates from an aged material which from the beginning was subjected to complex and less specific biogeochemical reactions like thermal decomposition. The variance in molecular mass as indicated from Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) mass spectra was limited and could not satisfactorily explain the observed disparity in NMR transverse relaxation of the four marine DOM samples. Likewise, the presence of metal ions in isolated marine DOM remained near constant or declined from surface to depth for important paramagnetic ions like Mn, Cr, Fe, Co, Ni and Cu. Iron in particular, a strong complexing paramagnetic ion, was found most abundant by a considerable margin in surface (FISH) marine DOM for which well resolved COSY cross peaks were observed. Hence, facile relationships between metal content of isolated DOM (which does not reflect authentic marine DOM metal content) and transverse NMR relaxation were not observed. High field (12 T) negative electrospray ionization FTICR mass spectra showed at first view rather conforming mass spectra for all four DOM samples with abundant CHO, CHNO, CHOS and CHNOS molecular series with slightly increasing numbers of mass peaks from surface to bottom DOM and similar fractions (~50%) of assigned molecular compositions throughout all DOM samples. The average mass increased from surface to bottom DOM by about 10 Dalton. The limited variance of FTICR mass spectra probably resulted from a rather inherent conformity of marine DOM at the mandatory level of intrinsic averaging provided by FTICR mass spectrometry, when many isomers unavoidably project on single nominal mass peaks. In addition, averaging from ion suppression added to the accordance observed. The proportion of CHO and CHNO molecular series increased from surface to depth whereas CHOS and especially CHNOS molecular series markedly declined. The abundance of certain aromatic CHOS compounds declined with water depth. For future studies, COSY NMR spectra appear best suited to assess organic molecular complexity of marine DOM and to define individual DOM molecules of yet unknown structure and function. Non-target organic structural spectroscopy at the level demonstrated here covered nearly all carbon present in marine DOM. The exhaustive characterization of complex unknowns in mbox{marine} DOM will reveal a meaningful assessment of individual marine biogeosignatures which carry the holistic memory of the oceanic water masses (Koch et al., 2011).
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