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Open-File Report 2015–1010

Multi-Elemental Analysis of Aqueous Geochemical Samples by Quadrupole Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)

By Ruth E. Wolf and Monique Adams

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (700 kB)Abstract

Typically, quadrupole inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is used to determine as many as 57 major, minor, and trace elements in aqueous geochemical samples, including natural surface water and groundwater, acid mine drainage water, and extracts or leachates from geological samples. The sample solution is aspirated into the inductively coupled plasma (ICP) which is an electrodeless discharge of ionized argon gas at a temperature of approximately 6,000 degrees Celsius. The elements in the sample solution are subsequently volatilized, atomized, and ionized by the ICP. The ions generated are then focused and introduced into a quadrupole mass filter which only allows one mass to reach the detector at a given moment in time. As the settings of the mass analyzer change, subsequent masses are allowed to impact the detector. Although the typical quadrupole ICP-MS system is a sequential scanning instrument (determining each mass separately), the scan speed of modern instruments is on the order of several thousand masses per second. Consequently, typical total sample analysis times of 2–3 minutes are readily achievable for up to 57 elements.

First posted June 5, 2015

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    Contains table 1–2, a correction equations calculation worksheet with formulas used for calculations in the report

For additional information, contact:
Director, Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Federal Center, Box 25046, MS 964
Denver, CO 80225-0046

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Suggested citation:

Wolf, R.E., and Adams, Monique, 2015, Multi-elemental analysis of aqueous geochemical samples by quadrupole inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1010, p. 34,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)



Interferences and Other Sources of Analytical Bias




Internal Standards

Calibration Standards

Safety Precautions

Sample Preparation


Method Performance—Blank Analysis and Reporting Limits

Method Performance—Analyses of Quality Control Samples

References Cited

Appendix 1. Determination of Empirical Oxide Corrections

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