Isotope Ratio Mass Spectroscopy and Climate Change

How can Isotopx’s mass spectrometers be used to understand climate change?

Mass spectrometry is used by the world’s leading Earth Scientists in order to measure tiny changes in isotope ratios, known as isotope ratio analysis. This article will take a look at the ways in which Isotopx’s isotope ratio mass spectrometers are used in environmental applications and climate change research to improve understanding of the process.

Applications of isotope ratio mass spectroscopy

In order to understand the link between isotope ratio mass spectroscopy and climate change, we must look at a few of the earth science applications that these mass spectrometers are used for.

  • Geochronology – determining rock age in order to better understand geological process, such as how tectonic plates have moved over millions of years.
  • Volcanic processes – understanding the subsurface processes that lead to earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s hoped that one day we will be able to predict these events with far greater accuracy
  • Climate change – understanding the way that the climate changes over geological timescales, helping us to better understand how it will change in the future.

Isotope ratio analysis of an ice core

A great example of a way that isotope ratio analysis can be used to understand climate change is when it is used to take measurements from an ice core. An ice core represents a direct connection to the moment in time that it was frozen. When the isotope ratios of certain elements in the water are measured, this information can be used to calculate exactly when the ice froze, and what the climate was like at the time. Additional information can also reveal the amount of pollution and CO2 in the air. This combination of discoveries enables scientists to build a picture of how the climate has changed over time, which is an essential contribution to modern scientific research surrounding climate change in the 21st century.

Measuring the isotope ratios can build a picture of climate change by revealing:

  • When the ice froze
  • What the climate was like
  • The amount of pollution and CO2

Isotope ratio analysis of noble gases

Another important example is the isotope ratio analysis of noble gases as a proxy for climate change. One research team has found that the ways certain noble gases diffuse through rocks can tally with changes in temperatures. This is a groundbreaking advancement in enabling the understanding of temperature variations over deep time. Scientists have been able to use temperature dependent diffusion to determine the age and temperature history of minerals on planetary surfaces, including on Earth, the moon and on Mars.

Isotope ratios of noble gases can act as a proxy for climate change because:

  • Noble gases diffuse through rocks
  • This is affected by temperature
  • So the diffusion can be used as a proxy for temperature change

NGX, our static multi collector noble gas mass spectrometer, is ideal for these and similar studies. It is designed to measure isotope ratios of any of the noble gases at high precision and accuracy, using conventional 1:1 ion optics with the very latest electronics to give simple fixed multi-collection coupled with high performance and sensitivity.        

The NGX uses two recently patented developments: a high-sensitivity, low-temperature cathode source and high dynamic range ATONA® Faraday amplifiers combined with advancements in electronics and design to produce a truly outstanding instrument.

Find out more about the NGX on our website.

Isotopx mass spectrometers play an important role in understanding climate change

There are many more ways that isotope ratio mass spectroscopy can be used to understand climate change. These are just two examples demonstrating important uses of our products for environmental research, which support the statement that “almost every aspect of our understanding of long term climate change is at least partially reliant on the measurement of isotope ratios.”

If you are involved in climate change research and are interested in the role of isotope mass spectroscopy, why not view our range of mass spectrometers, or get in touch with a member of our team to find out more. You can also follow us on social media to be the first to hear about the latest products and research from Isotopx.

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