Biogeochemistry: Stable Isotope Applications

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a picture of a biogeochemical cycle

Biogeochemical cycling is a cornerstone of ecosystem function and structure. Much has been learned about element cycles in a variety of systems using standard geochemical techniques. However, isotope geochemistry can offer unique and additional insights into sources, processes, and mechanisms. Further, many light stable isotope techniques are amenable to studying element cycling, but logically can be extended to consumer organisms and therefore integrate food webs, offering a more complete assessment of ecosystems. Light isotopes commonly used in this context include hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. Further, such techniques can complement studies of related biogeochemical cycles that have proven challenging to study directly with isotopic techniques.

The Stable Isotope Laboratory maintained by the Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry (CGG) and Fort Collins (FORT)Science Centers is a state-of-the-art facility with modern instrumentation capable of analyzing the isotopic composition of nearly any conceivable sample matrix. Laboratory staff and PI's have significant expertise in isotope systematics of the geosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere. The Laboratory has demonstrated innovative approaches to challenging questions and as such, has significant latitude to address emerging issues in ecosystem science. In addition, the Laboratory is highly competent in standard mass spectrometric methods and maintains a library of standard operating procedures. The full resources of the Laboratory are available to this Task and relevant research projects.

The objectives of this project are to: employ isotope techniques in tandem with standard geochemistry to better resolve critical biogeochemical processes; to continue to develop sulfur isotope techniques to refine this element cycle, particularly relationships with non-essential metals such as Hg and to couple biogeochemical cycles to food webs through intensive and interdisciplinary place-based studies.