• Environmental nuclear magnetic resonance;
  • Carr–Purcell Meiboom–Gill;
  • Signal-to-noise ratio;
  • Low abundance;
  • Signal enhancement


Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is an essential tool for studying environmental samples but is often hindered by low sensitivity, especially for the direct detection of nuclei such as13C. In very heterogeneous samples with NMR nuclei at low abundance, such as soils, sediments, and air particulates, it can take days to acquire a conventional13C spectrum. The present study describes a prescreening method that permits the rapid prediction of experimental run time in natural samples. The approach focuses the NMR chemical shift dispersion into a single spike, and, even in samples with extremely low carbon content, the spike can be observed in two to three minutes, or less. The intensity of the spike is directly proportional to the total concentration of nuclei of interest in the sample. Consequently, the spike intensity can be used as a powerful prescreening method that answers two key questions: (1) Will this sample produce a conventional NMR spectrum? (2) How much instrument time is required to record a spectrum with a specific signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio? The approach identifies samples to avoid (or pretreat) and permits additional NMR experiments to be performed on samples producing high-quality NMR data. Applications in solid- and liquid-state13C NMR are demonstrated, and it is shown that the technique is applicable to a range of nuclei. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:129–136. © 2012 SETAC