Protocol for quantitative detection of elemental sulfur and polysulfide zero-valent sulfur distribution in natural aquatic samples

Alexey Kamyshny*, Clemens G. Borkenstein, Timothy G. Ferdelman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


A HPLC-based protocol has been developed for the determination of zero-valent sulfur (ZVS) speciation, including solid, colloidal elemental sulfur and individual inorganic polysulfides in natural aquatic samples. The protocol includes four experimental procedures: (1) determination of polysulfide speciation by rapid single-phase derivatisation with methyl trifluoromethanesulfonate; (2) determination of the sum of polysulfide and colloidal sulfur by reaction with hydrogen cyanide (cyanolysis); (3) determination of total zero-valent sulfur by treatment with zinc chloride followed by extraction with chloroform; and (4) chromatographic determination of polythionates without sample pre-treatment. With proper sampling and preservation techniques in the field or on board ship, this combination of methods allowed the quantitative determination of: (a) individual polysulfide species; (b) dispersed colloidal sulfur; (c) dispersed solid elemental sulfur; and (d) tetra-, penta- and hexathionates. With minor modification, the method could be expanded to include other polythionates. Sixteen various wet chemical and liquid chromatographic methods were tested on nine synthetic reference samples (including solid elemental sulfur, colloidal elemental sulfur, inorganic polysulfides and polythionates) to establish the optimal protocol. The protocol was further evaluated by analysing the zero-valent sulfur content in microbially-produced sulfur and in sulfur from two natural samples of sulfide-rich seawater from tidal flats pools of the Wadden Sea (Germany).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)415-435
Number of pages21
JournalGeostandards and Geoanalytical Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Colloidal sulfur
  • Inorganic polysulfides
  • Polythionates
  • Rhombic sulfur
  • Zero-valent sulfur


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