Liquid water isotope analyzers are portable user-friendly instruments that rely on near-infrared adsorption spectroscopy to determine the isotopic composition of water samples. This technology is commercially available and recent advances have made the instruments an alternative to traditional stable isotope ratio mass spectrometers. The instrument requires only a small sample volume, limited sample pre-processing, and allows for rapid analyses with high precision, therefore opening the door for a variety of research projects that require water isotope analyses. This grant supports three early career scientists that specialize in the fields of hydrology, tectonic geomorphology and aqueous geochemisty. The research that will be supported by this instrument includes characterization of water isotopes to investigate the sources of rainfall and soil water; the characterization of how water's isotopic composition evolves as it moves through the hydrosphere and is eventually incorporated into the rock record; the analyses of pore water in marine sediments to track glacial melting events in Antarctica fjords; and the use of water in ikaite minerals to reconstruct the composition of seawater on thousand-year time intervals.

Water (H2O) can be characterized by analyzing the isotopes of both H and O. The isotopic composition of these two elements contains vast information on the sources of the water and the nature of the climatic processes that have affected the water. For instance, oxygen and hydrogen isotopes are used to determine how much rainwater originated from ocean evaporation and how far the water has traveled from the ocean to where it fell on the ground and feeds streams or groundwaters. The instrument funded though this grant will allow early career researchers to rapidly, precisely and economically analyze the water isotope composition of samples collected from streams, groundwaters, and the ocean. Research projects that will be facilitated by acquisition of this instrument include determining the sources of ground waters, soil water and stream water, learning how the isotopic composition of water is preserved in the rock record, characterizing the water contribution to the Antarctic ocean from melting of glaciers, and determining the composition of ancient sea water through analyses of water trapped in minerals. These applications have implications for the Earth?s water cycle, evolution of the Earth's topography, as well as the effects of climatic change on the ocean water composition.

Project Report

Funding provided by this award was used to purchase a L-2130i Picarro Liquid Water Isotope Analyzer (LWIA), and associated peripherals, which are housed in the Syracuse University Department of Earth Sciences. The instrument is used to measure the isotopic composition of water (d18O and dD) in environmental samples (e.g. precipitation, stream water, and groundwater). These measurements are critical to a variety of federally-funded research programs investigating surface-groundwater interaction, wetland hydrology, groundwater hydrology, paleoaltimetry, and watershed hydrology. The advantages of the LWIA are numerous and include a low purchase price, low cost of operation, rapid analysis of large numbers of samples, and ease of use. The LWIA at Syracuse University has been installed, is fully operational, and available for use by collaborators across several colleges and universities in the region. The laboratory protocols for general use have been established and in-house standards have been calibrated to International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) water isotope standards. Within the first year of use, the instrument has been used for projects involving university faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. At Syracuse University, the instrument has supported projects in Earth Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Other regional users within the first year include faculty and students from SUNY Oswego and SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Projects supported by this instrument span the globe, spanning China, Argentina, Peru and the United States. Given the low cost of operation and the relative ease of use, this instrument will continue to support a broad spectrum of projects and investigators across multiple institutions.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Tobias Fischer
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Syracuse University
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