Analysis of Sulfate or Nitrate Δ17O



We use a TC/EA to thermally degrade silver nitrate or silver sulfate to O2 and byproducts. The O2 is then passed to a Finnigan MAT253 for δ18O and δ17O analysis.

Reference Materials

We use the nitrate USGS35 as well as a suite of in-house designer sulfate standards to calibrate.

Sample submission

We accept samples for nitrate / sulfate Δ17O analysis on a collaborative basis. The first step, then, is for you to tell us about the goals and purpose of the measurements. If needed, we will work with you to design an appropriate analysis strategy. This method requires that you visit IsoLab and perform the analyses yourself. We will then work together when interpreting the data. We would discuss the plan at length and make sure the data make sense for you to interpret. We are not able to do “contract” work (i.e., analyze samples without knowing what they are or taking part in the interpretation) because the method is so time consuming, and it is unique enough that issues of standardization and calibration make it important to work out with an expert on a case-by-case basis. But as long as it involves scientific collaboration and we get to do quality control on the final dataset, we welcome visitors and/or samples. We typically schedule analyses 6 months in advance.

To calculate costs please visit our rates page.

The cost is calculated using the "Off Campus Funding, Lab Provided Labor" lane until the visitor is independent in analysis and data reduction (three days seems to be the minimum) then the "Off Campus Funding, User Provided Labor" for every day after that. If we run your samples for you, use the "Off Campus Funding, Lab Provided Labor" lane.

These rates are per analysis not per sample and we require at least triplicates for a sound interpretation (# of samples x # replicates = total analyses).

Exhaustive description of analysis

We have adapted and automated previously developed techniques (Savarino et al., 2001; Michalski et al., 2002). For each sample, isolation of nitrate or sulfate and conversion to silver nitrate or silver sulfate is performed using an automated system including ion chromatographic separation, ion exchange, and a fraction collector. A Dionex Ion Chromatograph with an IonPac AS19 column (4x 250 mm) and a multistep eluent concentration gradient of 7 mM/10 mM/15 mM KOH is used to separate nitrate and sulfate fractions. Fractions then flow directly through an AMMS1 III ion exchange membrane (4 mm) with 2.5 mM Ag2SO4 regenerant for conversion to silver salts (e.g., AgNO3) prior to separate collection by the fraction collector. In multiple successive steps by a miVac Duo centrifuging concentrator at 45C, silver nitrate fractions are transferred to and dried in  silver capsules while silver sulfate samples are transfered to and dried in quartz or gold capsules.

Analysis of oxygen isotopes of nitrate is performed using a Finnigan Temperature Conversion Elemental Analyzer (TC/EA) in-line with a continuous flow Finnigan MAT 253 isotope ratio mass spectrometer with He as the carrier gas. The TC/EA autosampler drops samples into a crimped quartz pyrolysis tube at 585C for nitrate and 1000 *C for sulfate. In the pyrolysis tube, pyrolysis of AgNO3 samples proceeds via 2AgNO3 --> O2 + 2NO2 + 2Ag(s) + (N2, NO in trace amounts). Ag2SO4 samples proceeds via Ag2SO4 --> O2 + SO2 + 2Ag + SO3 (trace). NO2 or SO2 and other condensible by-products are removed by a liquid N2 trap before the pyrolysis products flow through a molecular sieve 5A gas chromatograph column and into the IRMS.

Evolved O2 is measured for 16O16O, 16O17O, and 16O18O, from which D17O is calculated. Our measurements of the international standard USGS-35 reference material (NaNO3) result in Δ17O(NO3) = 21.5 ± 0.4%(1s error) for samples of 2–5 mmol O2 (4–10 mmol nitrate), which shows excellent agreement with accepted standard values (Δ17O(NO3) = 21.6 ± 0.2%) [Bohlke et al., 2003; Michalski et al., 2003].


Δ17O = δ17O − 0.528 × δ18O

Suggested reading

  • Savarino et al., 2001
  • Michalski et al., 2002
  • Bohlke et al., 2003
  • Michalski et al., 2003
  • Kunasek JGR 2008
  • Schauer RCM 2012

Sulfate or Nitrate Δ17O Analysis Pricing

All prices are per sample.

  • UW Budget Number, User Provided Labor
  • $69
  • To be eligible for this rate, you must provide a UW budget number for billing as well as have the ability and availability to run the sample analysis yourself from start to finish.
  • Method: Silver salt pyrolysis
  • Off Campus Funding, User Provided Labor
  • $81
  • To be eligible for this rate, you must have the ability and availability to run the analysis yourself from start to finish. Analysis will be paid for through an off-campus address.
  • Method: Silver salt pyrolysis
  • UW Budget Number, Lab Provided Labor
  • $156
  • To be eligible for this rate, you must provide the lab with a UW budget number for billing. An IsoLab lab technician will perform the sample analysis for your sample set.
  • Method: Silver salt pyrolysis
  • Off Campus Funding, Lab Provided Labor
  • $183
  • This is the lab's default billing rate. We will apply this rate when no UW budget number is provided and your sample analysis was performed by an IsoLab lab technician.
  • Method: Silver salt pyrolysis

We welcome individuals from all departments and from on or off the University of Washington campus to visit our facility, and to take advantage of our expertise. Please contact us for more information.