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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences

Seminars and Events

Developments in stable isotope analysis of methane: applications for earth and environmental science

26th February 2019, 12:00 to 13:00, Arthur Holmes Building - ES230 -TR3, Dr. Andrew Smith Isotope Geochemist, British Geological Survey

Stable isotope analysis has become a key geochemical tracer of environmental pollution and for understanding the cycling, transport and uptake of earth’s major elements. This tracer technique relies upon natural isotopic fractionations, which occur during chemical and biological reactions and our ability to accurately isolate and analyse the element of interest. This talk focuses on two case studies, which highlight recent innovative developments in stable isotope geoscience. The first looks at how we can isolate phosphate (PO4) from organic rich lake sediments and use its oxygen isotope composition (δ18O-PO4) to probe potential sources of anthropogenic P pollution. The aim of this work is to reliably inform future mitigation strategies for the release of excess phosphorus into the environment. The second highlights recent technological develops which enable high resolution, high throughput analysis of both methane (δ2H-CH4 and δ13C-CH4) and carbon dioxide (δ13C-CO2). These developments are driven by our requirement to better constrain the sources associated with increasing CH4 and CO2 (both major greenhouse gases) concentrations in the atmosphere. Additionally, increasing pressures on the subsurface as a zone for unconventional hydrocarbon production (hydraulic fracking) and for carbon capture and storage (CCS) requires a greater capacity for the tracing of dissolved gases. This work is critical to understanding subsurface methane formation and transport mechanisms, as well as the impact human activities within the subsurface may pay on gas mobility and release into near surface drinking aquifers.

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