Real-time, low-cost, field-ready carbon stable isotope analyzer for the study of carbon flux through organisms and ecosystems

Principal Investigator: Kenneth Welch

Department: Biological Sciences

Grant Names: NSERC ; Discovery Grant ;

Award Years: 2016 to 2017


The flux of carbon is fundamental to life and is influenced by both biotic and abiotic processes. Variations in the ratio and abundance of stable, naturally-occurring carbon isotopes (13C and 12C) carry the signature of these influential processes and provide a means for understanding the mechanisms that regulate carbon flux at all levels of biological organization. Despite its utility, there have been two principal barriers to broader use of stable isotope analytical approaches in biology: 1. the high cost

of analysis using traditional isotope ratio mass-spectrometry (IRMS) and 2. the lack of equipment portability. A next-generation tool, cavity ring-down spectrometry (CRDS), overcomes both barriers and costs substantially less to operate than traditional IRMS. Our integrative team consists of physiologists and ecologists who study the flow of carbon through individual organisms and ecosystems. 

The requested infrastructure will permit analysis of solid and gas samples containing carbon at very low concentrations (~200-2000 ppm) and will, for the first time, permit analysis directly in the field.