Complete Measurement of Stable Isotopes in N2O (δ15N, δ15Nα, δ15Nβ, δ18O, δ17O) Using Off-Axis Integrated Cavity Output Spectroscopy (OA-ICOS)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
J. Brian Leen and Manish Gupta, Los Gatos Research, Mountain View, CA, United States
Nitrate contamination in water is a worldwide environmental problem and source apportionment is critical to managing nitrate pollution. Fractionation caused by physical, chemical and biological processes alters the isotope ratios of nitrates (15N/14N, 18O/16O and 17O/16O) and biochemical nitrification and denitrification impart different intramolecular site preference (15N14NO vs14N15NO). Additionally, atmospheric nitrate is anomalously enriched in 17O compared to other nitrate sources. The anomaly (Δ17O) is conserved during fractionation processes, providing a tracer of atmospheric nitrate. All of these effects can be used to apportion nitrate in soil.

Current technology for measuring nitrate isotopes is complicated and costly – it involves conversion of nitrate to nitrous oxide (N2O), purification, preconcentration and measurement by isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS). Site specific measurements require a custom IRMS. There is a pressing need to make this measurement simpler and more accessible.

Los Gatos Research has developed a next generation mid-infrared Off-Axis Integrated Cavity Output Spectroscopy (OA-ICOS) analyzer to quantify all stable isotope ratios of N2O (δ15N, δ15Nα, δ15Nβ, δ18O, δ17O). We present the latest performance data demonstrating the precision and accuracy of the OA-ICOS based measurement. At an N2O concentration of 322 ppb, the analyzer quantifies [N2O], δ15N, δ15Na, δ15Nb, and δ18O with a precision of ±0.05 ppb, ±0.4 ‰, ±0.45 ‰, and ±0.6 ‰, and ±0.8 ‰ respectively (1σ, 100s; 1σ, 1000s for δ18O). Measurements of gas standards demonstrate accuracy better than ±1 ‰ for isotope ratios over a wide dynamic range (200 – 100,000 ppb). The measurement of δ17O requires a higher concentration (1 - 50 ppm), easily obtainable through conversion of nitrates in water. For 10 ppm of N2O, the instrument achieves a δ17O precision of ±0.05 ‰ (1σ, 1000s). This performance is sufficient to quantify atmospheric nitrate in soil and groundwater and may be used to differentiate other sources of nitrate for which the range of Δ17O values is much smaller.

By measuring δ15N, δ15Nα, δ15Nβ, δ18O and δ17O, our instrument will help researchers unravel the complicated nitrate mixing problem to determine the sources and sinks of nitrate pollution.