Characterising the Multi-Scale Properties of Flocculated Sediment by X-ray and Focused Ion Beam Nano-Tomography
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The hydrodynamic behaviour of fine suspended aqueous sediments, and stability of the bedforms they create once settled, are governed by the physical properties (e.g., size, shape, porosity and density) of the flocculated particles in suspension (flocs). Consequently, accurate prediction of the transport and fate of sediments and of the nutrients and pollutants they carry depends on our ability to characterise aqueous flocs. Current research primarily focuses on characterising flocs based on their external gross-scale (>1 μm) properties (e.g., gross morphology, size and settling velocity) using in situ techniques such as photography and videography. Whilst these techniques provide valuable information regarding the outward behaviour of flocculated sediment (i.e. transport and settling), difficulties associated with extracting 3D geometries from 2D projections raises concerns regarding their accuracy and key parameters such as density can only be estimated. In addition, they neglect to inform on the internal micro- and nano-scale structure of flocs, responsible for much of their behaviour and development. Transmission electron microscope (TEM) and environmental electron microscope may be used to obtain nano-scale information in, essentially, 2D but there is a large scale gap between this information and the macro-scale of optical techniques. To address this issue this study uses 3D tomographic imaging over a range of spatial scales. Whilst commonly used in materials science and the life sciences, correlative tomography has yet to be applied in the environmental sciences. Threading together 3D Xray micro-computed tomography (X-ray μCT) and focused ion beam nano-tomography (FIBnt) with 2D TEM makes material characterisation from the centimetre to nanometre-scale possible. Here, this correlative imaging strategy is combined with a non-destructive stabilisation procedure and applied to the investigation of flocculated estuarine sediment, enabling the multi length-scale properties of flocs to be accurately described for the first time. This work has demonstrated that delicate aqueous flocs can be successfully stabilised via a resin embedding process and contrasted for both electron microscopy and X-ray tomography imaging. The 3D information obtained can be correlated across all length-scales from nm to mm revealing new information about the structure and morphology of flocs. A new system of characterising floc structure can be defined based on the association of particles and their stability in the structure rather than simply their size. This new model refutes the postulate that floc structures are fractal in nature.
AuthorsWheatland, Jonathan Antony Thomas
- Theses