Technical note: An inverse method to relate organic carbon reactivity to isotope composition from serial oxidation
Abstract. Serial oxidation coupled with stable carbon and radiocarbon analysis of sequentially evolved CO2 is a promising method to characterize the relationship between organic carbon (OC) chemical composition, source, and residence time in the environment. However, observed decay profiles depend on experimental conditions and oxidation pathway. It is therefore necessary to properly assess serial oxidation kinetics before utilizing decay profiles as a measure of OC reactivity. We present a regularized inverse method to estimate the distribution of OC activation energy (E), a proxy for bond strength, using serial oxidation. Here, we apply this method to ramped temperature pyrolysis or oxidation (RPO) analysis but note that this approach is broadly applicable to any serial oxidation technique. RPO analysis directly compares thermal reactivity to isotope composition by determining the E range for OC decaying within each temperature interval over which CO2 is collected. By analyzing a decarbonated test sample at multiple masses and oven ramp rates, we show that OC decay during RPO analysis follows a superposition of parallel first-order kinetics and that resulting E distributions are independent of experimental conditions. We therefore propose the E distribution as a novel proxy to describe OC thermal reactivity and suggest that E vs. isotope relationships can provide new insight into the compositional controls on OC source and residence time.