The PI's request funding to acquire a LA-ICP-MS system to be used for the high resolution analysis of elemental and isotopic ratios of various substrates and materials in earth science, oceanographic, and climate change research. Acquisition of LA-ICP-MS would serve researchers working within various disciplines at UNC - CH and at other regional institutions. The requested LA-ICP-MS system is required for the broad range of research projects of multiple early career, mid-level, and senior researchers at UNC - CH. These projects include investigating temporal trends in carbonate mineralogy, developing a multielemental coral paleothermometer to reconstruct recent climate change, isotopic labeling of carbonate shells and skeletons in ocean acidification experiments, investigating trace element partitioning in synthetic and biogenic carbonates, investigating the origin and evolution of rhyolite magmas, investigating the relationship between plutons and volcanic rocks, reconnaissance U-Pb dating of zircons, evaluating the flux of U and Th isotopes from rivers and coastal environments to the ocean, diagenetic screening of paleoceanographic proxies, and elemental fingerprinting of fish otoliths to investigate patterns of fish migration, larval dispersal, and population connectivity.

Broader Impacts:

The proposed activity will contribute to the advancement of science in a range of disciplines in geoscience, and to the training of a range of researchers and their associates. It will especially benefit the establishment of 5 junior researchers at UNC-CH whom are in the process of developing new research programs. One minority post-doc and two minority students from Belize have already been identified to receive training in the new facility.

Project Report

Project objective: Acquisition and implementation of a sector-field laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS) for the high resolution elemental and isotopic analysis of organic and inorganic substrates in the earth and marine sciences. Funding was awarded for the acquisition of an LA-ICP-MS system at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to be used for the high-accuracy/high-precision analysis of low abundance elements and isotopes within various substrates and materials in earth science, oceanographic, and climate change research. The LA-ICP-MS system was acquired in August 2012 and became fully operational in September 2013. The newly acquired LA-ICP-MS serves researchers working within various disciplines at UNC - CH and at other institutions throughout the region and beyond. As of 2013, the LA-ICP-MS at UNC was the only such system in the central North Carolina region available for academic research. The newly acquired LA-ICP-MS system combines key technological capabilities that facilitate research in the earth, ocean, and climate change sciences. These capabilities include (1) high precision and accuracy afforded by efficient plasma ionization, variable mass resolution, double focused mass separation, and high mass and ion transmission stability; (2) broad mass range (6 < atomic mass < 260, > 70 elements) enabled by its discrete dynode detector system; (3) substrate versatility (liquids and solids), including in-situ measurement of solid substrates via laser ablation at < 5 µm spatial resolution; (4) ultra-low detection limits (ppq-to-ppm, depending on the isotope) due to high signal-to-noise ratios; and (5) rapid, simultaneous analysis of multiple isotopes (> 20) afforded by the system’s high sensitivity, rapid adjustment of mass resolution and magnetic field strength, and minimal sample preparation requirements. The newly acquired LA-ICP-MS system represents a substantial improvement in the precision, accuracy, and detection limits over the existing methods available at UNC-CH for quantifying elemental and isotopic composition. The PI, co-PIs and other researchers have used the instrument over the past year in numerous research projects, including: (1) development of a novel multielemental paleotemperature proxy in coral skeletons (Ries), (2) reconstruction of global warming over the past century throughout a Caribbean reef system (Ries), (3) reconstruction of hydraulic regimes in historical mill ponds (Ries & Merritts), (4) assessment of the extent to which Gulf of Mexico marsh fish have been exposed to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (Fodrie), (5) reconnaissance dating of zircons to investigate timing and mode of caldera formation (Coleman), and (6) investigation of the impact of damming on the sediment- and pollution-dynamics of a NC river system (McKee). The results of these various studies have advanced basic knowledge in the earth, marine, and climate change sciences. Instrument use by junior, mid-level, and senior faculty, and their postdoctoral associates, graduate and undergraduate students, and technical staff, have provided (and will continue to provide) critical educational and instrument training opportunities for users with varying levels of expertise across a range of scientific disciplines. Acquisition of the LA-ICP-MS system has been particularly valuable for the professional development of early career scientists Ries and Fodrie, whose developing research programs require the variable mass resolution, sensitivity, and substrate versatility afforded by sector field LA-ICP-MS. As of the end of 2013, acquisition of the new LA-ICP-MS system has provided educational and training opportunities for 5 UNC faculty, 6 non-UNC faculty, 1 technician, 1 research assistant, 1 postdoctoral researcher, 6 graduate students, and 1 undergraduate. Many additional educational and training opportunities are anticipated for the years ahead, especially as the instrument’s user base at UNC-CH and throughout the region expands to encompass other disciplines, including engineering, public health, pharmacology, dentistry, and medicine. Ancillary benefits of acquiring the new LA-ICP-MS at UNC-CH, beyond the immediate and obvious impacts on the University and participating scientists, include the generation of data related to climate and oceanic change that should inform the decisions of legislators and policy makers seeking to mitigate the deleterious impacts of CO2-induced climate change and the stimulation of business activity between UNC-CH and the two companies that manufactured the acquired instrumentation. Acquisition of the LA-ICP-MS has also created job opportunities for the technician hired to oversee operation and maintenance of the system at UNC and for a research assistant hired by PI Ries to assist with instrument method development and analysis.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Kandace S. Binkley
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
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