High-precision continuous-flow measurement of delta13C and deltaD of atmospheric CH4

Anal Chem. 2001 Sep 1;73(17):4104-10. doi: 10.1021/ac0155106.


We describe our development of a CH4 preconcentration system for use with continuous-flow gas chromatograph combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC/C/IRMS). Precision of measurement of delta13C-CH4 is 0.05/1000 (1sigma) on multiple 60-mL aliquots of the same ambient air sample. The same front-end on-line CH4 preconcentration system allows us to measure deltaD of CH4 by gas chromatography IRMS when the combustion furnace is replaced with a pyrolysis oven (GC/P/IRMS). Precision of measurement for deltaD-CH4 is 1.5/1000 (1sigma) using 120 mL of ambient air based on multiple aliquots of the same air sample. These are the first reported measurements of atmospheric CH4 using GC/P/IRMS methodology. Each isotope analysis can be made much more rapidly (30-40 min) than they could using off-line combustion of an air sample (1-6 h) followed by conventional dual-inlet IRMS measurements (12-20 min), while requiring much less total volume and retaining a comparable level of precision and accuracy. To illustrate the capabilities of our preconcentration GC/C/IRMS system, we compare the results of measurement of 24 background air samples made using both GC/C/IRMS and conventional vacuum line/dual-inlet IRMS methodology. The air samples were collected on a shipboard air sampling transect made across the Pacific Ocean in July 2000 and are part of an ongoing atmospheric CH4 research program. The average difference between the two methods of IRMS analyses on these 24 samples is 0.01 +/- 0.03/1000 (95% confidence interval) for delta3C-CH4. These are the first measurements to be reported of air samples directly intercompared for delta13C-CH4 using both GC/C/IRMS and dual-inlet IRMS measurement methodology. Measurement of deltaD-CH4 of these air samples is also presented as an illustration of the ability of this system to resolve small isotopic differences in remote air. High-precision measurement of delta13C and deltaD of atmospheric CH4 made using our coupled preconcentration GC/IRMS system will greatly improve our ability to utilize isotopic data in understanding spatial and temporal changes in atmospheric CH4 and the biogeochemistry of its sources and sinks.