Geochemical Processes


    Earth History


    Economic Geology


The reading of Earth history satisfies a fundamental human urge to know how the world around us came to be. Throughout its 4.6 billion year history the Earth has undergone enormous transformation and stable isotope analysis has been at the forefront of developing our knowledge of these transformative processes. By understanding the macro and micro cycling mechanisms of the light stable isotopes through the lithosphere by natural processes the Earth history is continually being understood in ever more detail.


One of the earliest applications of light stable isotope mass spectrometry was the reconstruction of ancient climate based on the oxygen isotopic composition (δ18O) of preserved ancient marine carbonate, and continues to be one of the widely utilised methods for interrogating Earth’s climate history. This paleothermometer is based on the fundamental principle that the fractionation of oxygen isotopes into calcite is temperature dependent. The isoprime precisION with Dual Inlet and MultiCarb enables very precise and reliable automated measurement of carbonates, ideal for generating high-resolution paleo temperature records.


The sulfur isotope analysis of extra-terrestrial sulphide minerals, e.g. from meteorites, has provided a variety of insights into the origins of the Earth and the solar system. The isotopic composition of meteoritic sulfur (Canyon Diabolo triolite) was also used as a the original reference point for the bulk earth from which to evaluate global scale fractionations in the sulfur cycle. Sulfur-bearing minerals are easily analysed with our range of elemental analyser (EA-IRMS) systems, which utilise advanced purge and trap (APT) technology for unbeatable separation and peak focussing of SO2, ensuring perfect resolution and unparalleled sensitivity for mineral sulfur analysis. 


Fluctuations in δ13C through geological time are brought about by changes in the balance of fluxes of the carbon cycle.  Because the residence time in the carbon cycle is brief (10 ka), changes in flux are recorded accurately and globally in the sedimentary record. As such, occasional spikes in the global δ13C are useful as stratigraphic markers for chemostratigraphy, especially during the Paleozoic. The iso FLOW uses our novel UltiTrap technology to enable precise, high throughput continuous flow analysis of bulk carbonates to identify these isotope excursions.

Geoscientific publications using our instruments

Our customers use our instruments to do some amazing research in the geosciences. To show you how they perform their research and how they use our IRMS instruments, we have collected a range of peer-reviewed publications which cite our products. You can find the citations below and then follow the links to the publishing journal should you wish to download the publication.

If you would like to investigate our available citations in more detail, or email the citation list to yourself or your colleagues then take a look at our full citation database.

248 results:

Chemical weathering and the role of sulfuric and nitric acid in carbonate weathering: isotopes ( 13 C, 15 N, 34 S and 18 O) and chemical constraints
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences (2016)
Cai Li, Hongbing Ji

Multiple isotopes (13C-DIC, 34S and 18O-SO42−, 15N and 18O-NO3−) and water chemistry were used to evaluate weathering rates and associated CO2 consumption by carbonic acid and strong acids (H2SO4 and HNO3) in a typical karst watershed (Wujiang River, Southwest China). The dual sulfate isotopes indicate that sulfate is mainly derived from sulfide oxidation in coal stratum and sulfide-containing minerals, and dual nitrate isotopes indicate that nitrate is mainly derived from soil N and nitrification. The correlation between isotopic compositions and water chemistry suggests that sulfuric and nitric acids, in addition to carbonic acid, are involved in carbonate weathering. The silicate and carbonate weathering rates are 7.2 t km−2 yr−1 and 76 t km−2 yr−1, respectively. In comparison with carbonate weathering rates (43 t km−2 yr−1) by carbonic acid alone, the subsequent increase in rates indicates significant enhancement of weathering when combined with sulfuric and nitric acid. Therefore, the role of sulfuric and nitric acid in the rock weathering should be considered in the global carbon cycle.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , oxygen , sulfur , geol , elem , gashead

Petrogenesis and Ni-Cu sulphide potential of mafic-ultramafic rocks in the Mesoproterozoic Fraser Zone within the Albany-Fraser Orogen, Western Australia
Precambrian Research (2016)
W.D. Maier, R.H. Smithies, C.V. Spaggiari, S.J. Barnes, C.L. Kirkland, S. Yang, Y. Lahaye, O. Kiddie, C. MacRae

The Albany Fraser orogen is located along the southern and southeastern margins of the Archean Yilgarn Craton. The orogen formed during reworking of the Yilgarn Craton, along with variable additions of juvenile mantle material, from at least 1810 Ma to 1140 Ma. The Fraser Zone is a 425 km long and 50 km wide geophysically distinct belt near the northwestern edge of the orogen, hosting abundant sills of predominantly metagabbroic non-cumulate rocks, but including larger cumulate bodies, all emplaced at c. 1300 Ma. The gabbroic rocks are interpreted to have crystallised from a basaltic magma that had ∼8.8% MgO, 185 ppm Ni, 51 ppm Cu, and extremely low contents of platinum-group elements (PGE, <1 ppb). Levels of high field-strength elements (HFSE) in the least enriched rocks indicate that the magma was derived from a mantle source more depleted than a MORB source. Isotope and trace element systematics suggest that the magma was contaminated (εNd 0 to -2 throughout, La/Nb around 3) with small (<10%) amounts of crust before and during ascent and emplacement. Larger bodies of cumulate rocks show evidence for additional contamination, at the emplacement level, with country-rock metasedimentary rocks or their anatectic melts. The area has been the focus of considerable exploration for Ni-Cu sulphides following the discovery of the Nova deposit in 2012 in an intrusion consisting of olivine gabbronoritic, noritic and peridotitic cumulates, interlayered with metasedimentary rocks belonging to the Snowys Dam Formation of the Arid Basin. Disseminated sulphides from a drillcore intersecting the structurally upper portion of the intrusion, above the main ore zone, have tenors of ∼ 3-6.3% Ni, 1.8-6% Cu and mostly <500 ppb PGE, suggesting derivation from magma with the same composition as the regional Fraser Zone metagabbroic sills, at R factors of ∼1500. However, the Nova rocks tend to have higher εSr (38-52) and more variable δ34S (-2 to +4) than the regional metagabbros (εSr 17-32, δ34S around 0), consistent with the geochemical evidence for enhanced crustal assimilation of the metasedimentary country-rock in a relatively large magma staging chamber from which pulses of sulphide bearing, crystal-charged magmas were emplaced at slightly different crustal levels. Preliminary investigations suggest that the critical factors determining whether or not Fraser Zone mafic magmas are mineralised probably relate to local geodynamic conditions that allow large magma chambers to endure long enough to sequester country-rock sulphur.

A late Miocene methane-seep deposit bearing methane-trapping silica minerals at Joetsu, central Japan
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2016)
Yusuke Miyajima, Yumiko Watanabe, Yukio Yanagisawa, Kazutaka Amano, Takashi Hasegawa, Norimasa Shimobayashi

The modern Japan Sea is characterized by active methane seeps associated with gas hydrates, but their ancient counterparts are not fully understood. This study describes a newly discovered methane-seep carbonate block, the ‘Nakanomata Seep Deposit’, from the upper Miocene Nodani Formation in Joetsu City, central Japan. The age of this deposit is constrained to 7.5–6.5Ma based on its fossil diatom assemblage. The deposit contains molluscan fossils typical of methane seeps, including vesicomyid and bathymodiolin bivalves, and provannid gastropods, and it retains an almost entirely aragonitic mineralogy, despite its Miocene age. It is composed of clotted microcrystalline aragonite containing nodules and intraclasts, and is crosscut by vein-like networks of voids and cavities rimmed with acicular aragonite. The δ13C values of the carbonate phases are as low as −41.1‰ and the presence of lipid biomarkers (pentamethylicosane and crocetane) suggests that the deposit originated from the anaerobic oxidation of methane. It is suggested that an initially diffuse methane seepage formed the micritic nodules, followed by a more rapid and intense methane seepage that led to the development of abundant voids in the sediment; finally, the sediment was cemented by microcrystalline aragonite and void-lining acicular aragonite. The seep deposit also contains peculiar globular silica minerals and authigenic quartz. During their precipitation, these globular silica minerals may have trapped methane gas bubbles, and the minerals may be pseudomorphs after silica clathrate. Sufficient increase in pH and supersaturation of silica, which led to the dissolution and subsequent precipitation of these silica minerals, could have resulted from the degassing of carbon dioxide, promoted by an effective supply of methane, and its supersaturation, thus forming gas bubbles.

Nanoscale relationships between uranium and carbonaceous material in alteration halos around unconformity-related uranium deposits of the Kiggavik camp, Paleoproterozoic Thelon Basin, Nunavut, Canada
Ore Geology Reviews (2016)
Thomas Riegler, Marie-France Beaufort, Thierry Allard, Anne-Catherine Pierson-Wickmann, Daniel Beaufort

Concentrations of 7% U and 1% Cu were identified in massive, brecciated, and amorphous carbonaceous materials (CM) characterized by strongly negative values of carbon stable isotopes (δ13C=−39.1‰ relative to PDB). The anomalies are restricted to clay alteration halos developed in Neoarchean Woodburn Lake group metagreywacke that is the predominant host of unconformity-related uranium (U) deposits in the Kiggavik exploration camp. Petrographic and microstructural analyses by SEM, X-Ray Diffraction, HR-TEM and RAMAN spectroscopy identified carbon veils, best described as graphene-like carbon, upon which nano-scale uraninite crystals are distributed. CM are common in U systems such as the classic Cretaceous roll-front deposits and the world-class Paleoproterozoic unconformity-related deposits. However, the unusual spatial and textural association of U minerals and CM described herein raises questions on mechanisms that may have been responsible for the precipitation of the CM followed by crystallization of U oxides on its surfaces. Based on the characteristics presented herein, the CMs at Kiggavik are interpreted as hydrothermal in origin. Furthermore, the nanoscale organization and properties of these graphene-like layers that host U oxide crystallites clearly localized U oxide nucleation and growth.

North Atlantic forcing of moisture delivery to Europe throughout the Holocene.
Scientific reports (2016)
Andrew C Smith, Peter M Wynn, Philip A Barker, Melanie J Leng, Stephen R Noble, Wlodek Tych

Century-to-millennial scale fluctuations in precipitation and temperature are an established feature of European Holocene climates. Changes in moisture delivery are driven by complex interactions between ocean moisture sources and atmospheric circulation modes, making it difficult to resolve the drivers behind millennial scale variability in European precipitation. Here, we present two overlapping decadal resolution speleothem oxygen isotope (δ(18)O) records from a cave on the Atlantic coastline of northern Iberia, covering the period 12.1-0 ka. Speleothem δ(18)O reveals nine quasi-cyclical events of relatively wet-to-dry climatic conditions during the Holocene. Dynamic Harmonic Regression modelling indicates that changes in precipitation occurred with a ~1500 year frequency during the late Holocene and at a shorter length during the early Holocene. The timing of these cycles coincides with changes in North Atlantic Ocean conditions, indicating a connectivity between ocean conditions and Holocene moisture delivery. Early Holocene climate is potentially dominated by freshwater outburst events, whilst ~1500 year cycles in the late Holocene are more likely driven by changes internal to the ocean system. This is the first continental record of its type that clearly demonstrates millennial scale connectivity between the pulse of the ocean and precipitation over Europe through the entirety of the Holocene.
Tags: carbon , oxygen , geol , clim , mulitcarb

Exploring the structural controls on helium, nitrogen and carbon isotope signatures in hydrothermal fluids along an intra-arc fault system
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (2016)
Daniele Tardani, Martin Reich, Emilie Roulleau, Naoto Takahata, Yuji Sano, Pamela Peréz-Flóres, Pablo Sánchez, José Cembrano, Gloria Arancibia

There is a general agreement that fault-fracture meshes exert a primary control on fluid flow in both volcanic/magmatic and geothermal/hydrothermal systems. For example, in geothermal systems and epithermal gold deposits, optimally oriented faults and fractures play a key role in promoting fluid flow through high vertical permeability pathways. In the Southern Volcanic Zone (SVZ) of the Chilean Andes, both volcanism and hydrothermal activity are strongly controlled by the Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault System (LOFS), an intra-arc, strike-slip fault, and by the Arc-oblique Long-lived Basement Fault System (ALFS), a set of transpressive NW-striking faults. However, the role that principal and subsidiary fault systems exert on magma degassing, hydrothermal fluid flow and fluid compositions remains poorly constrained. In this study we report new helium, carbon and nitrogen isotope data (3He/4He, δ13C-CO2 and δ15N) of a suite of fumarole and hot spring gas samples from 23 volcanic/geothermal localities that are spatially associated with either the LOFS or the ALFS in the central part of the SVZ. The dataset is characterized by a wide range of 3He/4He ratios (3.39 Ra to 7.53 Ra, where Ra=(3He/4He)air), δ13C-CO2 values (−7.44‰ to −49.41‰) and δ15N values (0.02‰ to 4.93‰). The regional variations in 3He/4He, δ13C-CO2 and δ15N values are remarkably consistent with those reported for 87Sr/86Sr in lavas along the studied segment, which are strongly controlled by the regional spatial distribution of faults. Two fumaroles gas samples associated with the northern “horsetail” transtensional termination of the LOFS are the only datapoints showing uncontaminated MORB-like 3He/4He signatures. In contrast, the dominant mechanism controlling helium isotope ratios of hydrothermal systems towards the south appears to be the mixing between mantle-derived helium and a radiogenic component derived from, e.g., magmatic assimilation of 4He-rich country rocks or contamination during the passage of the fluids through the upper crust. The degree of 4He contamination is strictly related with the faults controlling the occurrence of volcanic and geothermal systems, with the most contaminated values associated with NW-striking structures. This is confirmed by δ15N values that show increased mixing with crustal sediments and meteoric waters along NW faults (AFLS), while δ13C-CO2 data are indicative of cooling and mixing driving calcite precipitation due to increased residence times along such structures. Our results show that the structural setting of the region exerts a fist-order control on hydrothermal fluid composition by conditioning residence times of magmas and thus promoting cooling/mixing of magmatic vapor, and therefore, must be taken into consideration for further geochemical interpretations.

CO2 outburst events in relation to seismicity: constraints from microscale geochronology, geochemistry of late Quaternary vein carbonates, SW Turkey
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (2016)
Ezgi Ünal-İmer, I. Tonguç Uysal, Jian-Xin Zhao, Veysel Işık, James Shulmeister, Ali İmer, Yue-Xing Feng

Vein and breccia carbonates precipitated in a highly fractured/faulted carbonate bedrock in SW Turkey were investigated through high-resolution U-series geochronology, microstructural and geochemical studies including C-O-Sr isotope and rare-earth element and yttrium (REY) analyses. Petrographical observations and geochronological data are interpreted as evidence that the calcite veins formed through a crack-seal mechanism, mostly accompanied/initiated by intensive hydraulic fracturing of the host limestone in response to high-pressure fluids, which is manifested by multi-stage breccia deposits. Microscale U-series dates (272.6–20.5 kyr) and geochemical compositions of the vein/breccia samples provide information on the timing and mechanism of the vein formation and identify the source of CO2-bearing fluids responsible for the carbonate precipitation. δ18OVPDB and δ13CVPDB values of the calcite veins range between -5.9 and -1.7‰, and -10.6 and -4.6‰, respectively. The isotopic compositions of the veins show highly fluctuating values as calcite grew successively perpendicular to vein walls, which, in combination with microstructural and geochronological constraints, are interpreted to reflect episodic CO2 degassing events associated with seismic and aseismic deformation. Oxygen and Sr isotope compositions (δ18OVPDB: -5.9 to -1.7‰; 87Sr/86Sr: 0.7082 to 0.7085) together with REY concentrations indicate deep infiltration of meteoric waters with various degrees of interactions mostly with the host limestone and siliciclastic parts of the basement rocks. Oxygen and carbon isotope compositions suggest CO2 degassing through intensive limestone dissolution. While majority of the veins display similar Post-Archaean Australian Shale (PAAS)-normalized REY variations, some of the veins show positive EuPAAS anomalies, which could be indicative of contributions from a deeply derived, heated, and reduced fluid component, giving rise to multiple fluid sources for the calcite veins. Vein calcite formed in fault-induced fractures offer insights into structural features, genetic characterization of the parental fluids, and late Quaternary degassing of subsurface CO2 accumulations.

Precipitation isoscapes for New Zealand: enhanced temporal detail using precipitation-weighted daily climatology.
Isotopes in environmental and health studies (2016)
W Troy Baisden, Elizabeth D Keller, Robert Van Hale, Russell D Frew, Leonard I Wassenaar

Predictive understanding of precipitation δ(2)H and δ(18)O in New Zealand faces unique challenges, including high spatial variability in precipitation amounts, alternation between subtropical and sub-Antarctic precipitation sources, and a compressed latitudinal range of 34 to 47 °S. To map the precipitation isotope ratios across New Zealand, three years of integrated monthly precipitation samples were acquired from >50 stations. Conventional mean-annual precipitation δ(2)H and δ(18)O maps were produced by regressions using geographic and annual climate variables. Incomplete data and short-term variation in climate and precipitation sources limited the utility of this approach. We overcome these difficulties by calculating precipitation-weighted monthly climate parameters using national 5-km-gridded daily climate data. This data plus geographic variables were regressed to predict δ(2)H, δ(18)O, and d-excess at all sites. The procedure yields statistically-valid predictions of the isotope composition of precipitation (long-term average root mean square error (RMSE) for δ(18)O = 0.6 ‰; δ(2)H = 5.5 ‰); and monthly RMSE δ(18)O = 1.9 ‰, δ(2)H = 16 ‰. This approach has substantial benefits for studies that require the isotope composition of precipitation during specific time intervals, and may be further improved by comparison to daily and event-based precipitation samples as well as the use of back-trajectory calculations.

Lithostratigraphic analysis of a new stromatolite-thrombolite reef from across the rise of atmospheric oxygen in the Paleoproterozoic Turee Creek Group, Western Australia.
Geobiology (2016)
E Barlow, M J Van Kranendonk, K E Yamaguchi, M Ikehara, A Lepland

This study describes a previously undocumented dolomitic stromatolite-thrombolite reef complex deposited within the upper part (Kazput Formation) of the c. 2.4-2.3 Ga Turee Creek Group, Western Australia, across the rise of atmospheric oxygen. Confused by some as representing a faulted slice of the younger c. 1.8 Ga Duck Creek Dolomite, this study describes the setting and lithostratigraphy of the 350-m-thick complex and shows how it differs from its near neighbour. The Kazput reef complex is preserved along 15 km of continuous exposure on the east limb of a faulted, north-west-plunging syncline and consists of 5 recognisable facies associations (A-E), which form two part regressions and one transgression. The oldest facies association (A) is characterised by thinly bedded dololutite-dolarenite, with local domical stromatolites. Association B consists of interbedded columnar and stratiform stromatolites deposited under relatively shallow-water conditions. Association C comprises tightly packed columnar and club-shaped stromatolites deposited under continuously deepening conditions. Clotted (thrombolite-like) microbialite, in units up to 40 m thick, dominates Association D, whereas Association E contains bedded dololutite and dolarenite, and some thinly bedded ironstone, shale and black chert units. Carbon and oxygen isotope stratigraphy reveals a narrow range in both δ(13) Ccarb values, from -0.22 to 0.97‰ (VPDB: average = 0.68‰), and δ(18) O values, from -14.8 to -10.3‰ (VPDB), within the range of elevated fluid temperatures, likely reflecting some isotopic exchange. The Kazput Formation stromatolite-thrombolite reef complex contains features of younger Paleoproterozoic carbonate reefs, yet is 300-500 Ma older than previously described Proterozoic examples worldwide. Significantly, the microbial fabrics are clearly distinct from Archean stromatolitic marine carbonate reefs by way of containing the first appearance of clotted microbialite and large columnar stromatolites with complex branching arrangements. Such structures denote a more complex morphological expression of growth than previously recorded in the geological record and may link to the rise of atmospheric oxygen.
Tags: carbon , oxygen , geol , ocea , clim , mulitcarb

Sulfur isotopic compositions of individual organosulfur compounds and their genetic links in the Lower Paleozoic petroleum pools of the Tarim Basin, NW China
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (2016)
Chunfang Cai, Alon Amrani, Richard H. Worden, Qilin Xiao, Tiankai Wang, Zvi Gvirtzman, Hongxia Li, Ward Said-Ahmad, Lianqi Jia

During thermochemical sulfate reduction (TSR), H2S generated by reactions between hydrocarbons and aqueous sulfate back-reacts with remaining oil-phase compounds forming new organosulfur compounds (OSC) that have similar δ34S values to the original sulfate. Using compound specific sulfur isotope analysis (CSSIA) of alkylthiaadamantanes (TAs), alkyldibenzothiophenes (DBTs), alkylbenzothiophenes (BTs) and alkylthiolanes (TL), we have here attempted to differentiate OSCs due to primary generation and those due to TSR in oils from the Tarim Basin, China. These oils were generated from Cambrian source rocks and accumulated in Cambrian and Ordovician reservoirs. Based on compound specific sulfur isotope and carbon isotope data, TAs concentrations and DBT/phenanthrene ratios, the oils fall into four groups, reflecting different extents of source rock signal, alteration by TSR, mixing events, and secondary generation of H2S. Thermally stable TAs, produced following TSR, rapidly dominate kerogen-derived TAs at low to moderate degrees of TSR. Less thermally stable TLs and BTs were created as soon as TSR commenced, rapidly adopted TSR- δ34S values, but they do not survive at high concentrations unless TSR is advanced and ongoing. The presence of TLs and BTs shows that TSR is still active. Secondary DBTs were produced in significant amounts sufficient to dominate kerogen-derived DBTs, only when TSR was at an advanced extent. The difference in sulfur isotopes between (i) TLs and DBTs and (ii) BTs and DBTs and (iii) TAs and DBTs, represents the extent of TSR while the presence of TAs at greater than 20 μg/g represents the occurrence of TSR. The output of this study shows that compound specific sulfur isotopes of different organosulfur compounds, with different thermal stabilities and formation pathways, not only differentiate between oils of TSR and non-TSR origin, but can also reveal information about relative timing of secondary charge events and migration pathways.
Tags: carbon , sulfur , geol , oilg , gaschrom