Centralised Analytical Chemistry – Stable isotopes

This facility carries out isotope analyses within the terrestrial, freshwater & marine scientific communities. 

Life Sciences Mass Spectrometer Facility

These communities are in key global research localities such as the polar and desert regions and the tropics. The facility's main strength is its exclusive combination of sample preparation equipment, analytical instrumentation and staff expertise.

The staff expertise in isotope methodologies and instrumentation has allowed the introduction of "fit-for-purpose" technologies, methodologies and new applications. They provide a highly specialised unit for the 13C & 15N stable isotope analysis of biological, terrestrial and environmental materials for the UK’s ecological research community.

Overview and knowledge base

Researcher measuring isotopesThe Lancaster node of the NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (LSMSF) is located within the Centralised Analytical Chemistry Facility at CEH's Lancaster site. The LSMSF provides a highly specialised unit for the 13C & 15N stable isotope analysis of biological, terrestrial and environmental materials for the UK’s ecological research community. The main strength of the facility is its exclusive combination of sample preparation equipment, analytical instrumentation and staff expertise.

Established in 1984, the staff expertise in isotope methodologies and instrumentation has allowed the introduction of "fit-for-purpose" technologies, methodologies and new applications, which are matched to suit the continually growing needs of the external user community. The collaborative opportunities provided by the Lancaster node of the LSMSF complement those run by its sister nodes located at the University of Bristol & the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).

The node specialises in the isotopic analysis of:

  • Trace gases (CO2, CH4 and N2O)
  • DIC, DOC, DON
  • Soils, vegetation, bacterial mats, fungi, soil fauna (mites, enchytraeids, etc)
  • Nitrogen gas (denitrification / nitrification)
  • Acid traps/passive samplers/diffusion tubes
  • K2SO4 extracts, KCl extracts and leachates
  • Ammonium + nitrate from soil (Kjeldahl distillates, acidified filters)
  • Microbial biomarkers, e.g. δ13C analysis of PLFAs, DNA, RNA (SIP methods).

Equipment

  • 2 x EA-IRMS systems – automated for bulk 13C and 15N analyses of most environmental samples
  • 2 x Gas-IRMS - equipped with Gilson auto sampler for CO2, CH4, N2O and N2 analyses of headspace or air samples
  • Compound Specific IRMS - equipped with auto-sampler for δ13C analysis of PLFAs
  • GC & GC-MS - for screening and identification of PLFA samples prior to isotopic determination
  • Grinding facility: Glenn Preston liquid N2 mills for preparation of samples for EA-IRMS

Projects

Examples of projects across CEH and NERC involving the stable isotope facility (LSMSF Lancaster):

  • Do Arctic plant-soil communities acclimate to long-term elevated CO2 exposure?
  • Respiration in the Andes: climate sensitivity of soil respiration
  • Short circuits in the N cycle regulate ecosystem development in terrestrial Antarctic
  • The role of lateral exchange in modulating the seaward flux of C, N & P (Macronutrients)
  • The potential of biochar to suppress N2O emissions in agricultural soils
  • The role of mycorrhizal fungi in belowground cycling of carbon under bioenergy crops
  • In situ peptide uptake and partitioning between grassland plant species and soil microbes along a productivity gradient
  • Determining the influence of environmental factors upon dominant soil bacterial taxa and functioning
  • Leaf litter carbon metabolism within microbial communities across a large tropical forest elevation gradient
  • Local adaptation and adaptive divergence in the Senecio hybrid species complex (Mount Etna)
  • Carbon sources contributing to pulses of soil respiration after rainfall in the Kalahari

Reports

PDF icon 2014/2015 Annual Report Final.pdf

Contact

Dr Andy Stott technical manager for the Stable Isotope Facility (NERC LSMSF Lancaster)

LSMSF application procedure

If you are employed at an eligible UK academic or research institution or hold an NERC Fellowship, then you are eligible to apply to use services provided by NERC LSMSF. With the recent relaxation of criteria for eligibility, all potential applicants should first contact a member of the Facility staff to discuss their project and planned LSMSF proposal (Dr Andy Stott). At this stage any potential problems can be identified and the feasibility of carrying out the proposed work assessed; in some cases a pilot study comprising a few samples may be undertaken at the discretion of the Facility manager.

Assuming the proposed work is analytically and operationally feasible then you should complete and return an NERC LSMSF application form. Completed forms must be returned electronically to the node manager and, in addition, a hardcopy with signed declaration (section 5) and signed data protocol declaration returned by conventional mail. 

The scientific case for supporting each application is assessed by the NERC LSMSF steering committee at one of its biannual (May and November) meetings. There is a deadline for the submission of applications before each meeting; the current deadline may be found on the NERC LSMSF homepage. Successful applicants are usually notified within a month of the steering committee meeting. Awards are given a monetary value and may be considered as a 'grant-in-kind' with analytical services being 'free-at-point-of-use'. The steering committee encourages, in particular, applications supporting NERC funded studentships although applications in support of studentships supported by other funding sources that fall within the science remit of NERC are welcomed.

Applicants seeking analytical services in support of an NERC grant should make a separate additional application to NERC LSMSF. Since any award made through NERC LSMSF carries a monetary value such costs should not also be sought through standard NERC grant funding mechanisms.

Facility Type: 

  • Research Facility

Science areas: