Novel Tool for Simultaneous Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Analyses in Aqueous Samples

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Eugen Federherr1,2, Torsten C. Schmidt1, Chiara Cerli3, Karsten Kalbitz3, Hans J. Kupka2, Lutz Lange2, Ralf Dunsbach2, Robert J. Panetta4 and Art Kasson5, (1)University of Duisburg-Essen, Instrumental Analytical Chemistry, Essen, Germany, (2)Elementar Analysensysteme GmbH, Research and Innovation, Hanau, Germany, (3)University of Amsterdam, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (4)Isoprime Ltd, Research and Development, Manchester, United Kingdom, (5)Elementar Americas, Inc., Mount Laurel, NJ, United States
Investigation of transformation and transport processes of carbon and nitrogen in ecosystems plays an important role to understand and predict their dynamics and role in biogeochemistry. Consequently, suitable and accurate methods for concentration as well as stable isotopic composition analysis of carbon and nitrogen in waters and aqueous solutions play a significant role.

Traditionally dissolved carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis (SIA) is performed using either offline sample preparation followed by elemental analysis isotope ratio mass spectrometry (EA/IRMS) or modified wet chemical oxidation based device coupled to IRMS. Recently we presented a high temperature combustion system (HTC), which significantly improves upon these methods for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) SIA.

The analysis of δ15N of dissolved nitrogen still has large limitations. Its low concentration makes EA/IRMS laborious, time and sample consuming. Systems based on wet chemical oxidation-IRMS bare the risk of sensitivity loss as well as of fractionation due to incomplete mineralization. In addition, the high solubility of molecular nitrogen in water remains a technical challenge, as it requires additional separation steps to distinguish between physically dissolved nitrogen and bound nitrogen.

Further development of our HTC system lead to the implementation of the δ15N determination which now coupled, into a novel total organic carbon (TOC) analyzing system, especially designed for SIA of both, carbon and nitrogen. Integrated, innovative purge and trap technique (peak focusing) for nitrogen with aluminosilicate adsorber and peltier element based cooling system, in combination with high injection volume (up to 3 mL) as well as favorable carrier gas flow significantly improves sensitivity. Down to 1ppm and less total nitrogen can be measured with precision of ≤ 0.5‰. To lower the background caused by physically dissolved nitrogen new, membrane-vacuum based, degasser was designed for online separation of physically dissolved nitrogen.

This novel HTC system, “iso TOC cube”, provides an innovative tool with large potential in investigation of biogeochemical carbon and nitrogen cycles.