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Techniques and Methods 10–C16

Determination of the δ15N of Nitrate in Water; RSIL Lab Code 2899

By Tyler B. Coplen, Haiping Qi, Kinga Révész, Karen Casciotti, and Janet E. Hannon

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The purpose of the Reston Stable Isotope Laboratory (RSIL) lab code 2899 is to determine the δ15N of nitrate (NO3) in water. The δ15N of the dissolved NO3 is analyzed by conversion of the NO3 to nitrous oxide (N2O), which serves as the analyte for mass spectrometry. A culture of denitrifying bacteria is used in the enzymatic conversion of the NO3 to N2O, which follows the pathway shown in equation 1:

                          NO3 NO2 NO 1/2 N2O           (1)

Because the bacteria Pseudomonas aureofaciens lack N2O reductive activity, the reaction stops at N2O, unlike the typical denitrification reaction that goes to N2. After several hours, the conversion is complete, and the N2O is extracted from the vial, separated from volatile organic vapor and water vapor by an automated –65 °C isopropanol-slush trap, a Nafion drier, a CO2 and water removal unit (Costech #021020 carbon dioxide absorbent with Mg(ClO4)2), and trapped in a small-volume trap immersed in liquid nitrogen with a modified Finnigan MAT (now Thermo Scientific) GasBench 2 introduction system. After the N2O is released, it is further purified by gas chromatography before introduction to the isotope-ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS). The IRMS is a Thermo Scientific Delta V Plus continuous flow IRMS (CF-IRMS). It has a universal triple collector, consisting of two wide cups with a narrow cup in the middle; it is capable of simultaneously measuring mass/charge (m/z) of the N2O molecule 44, 45, and 46. The ion beams from these m/z values are as follows: m/z = 44 = N2O = 14N14N16O; m/z = 45 = N2O = 14N15N16O or 14N14N17O; m/z = 46 = N2O = 14N14N18O. The 17O contributions to the m/z 44 and m/z 45 ion beams are accounted for before δ15N values are reported.

Revised September 17, 2012 (version 1.1)

First posted 2007

For additional information contact:
Director, Reston Stable Isotope Laboratory
U.S. Geological Survey
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS 431
Reston, VA 20192

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Suggested citation:

Coplen, T.B., Qi, Haiping, Révész, Kinga, Casciotti, Karen, and Hannon, J.E., 2012, Determination of the δ15N of nitrate in water; RSIL lab code 2899, chap. 16 of Stable isotope-ratio methods, sec. C of Révész, Kinga, and Coplen, T.B. eds., Methods of the Reston Stable Isotope Laboratory (slightly revised from version 1.0 released in 2007): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 10, 35 p., available only at (Supersedes versions 1.0 and 1.1 released in 2007.)



Summary of Procedure

Reporting Units and Operational Range

Reference Materials and Documentation

Labware, Instrumentation, and Reagents

Sample Collection, Preparation, Analysis, Retention Times, and Disposal

Data Acquisition, Processing, Evaluation, Quality Control, and Quality Assurance

Health, Safety, and Waste-Disposal Information

Revision History

References Cited

Appendix A. Step-by-Step Procedure to Log-In Samples to LIMS-LSI

Appendix B. Step-by-Step Procedure to Print a Template and a Samples-to-be-Analyzed List

Appendix C. Step-by-Step Preparation Procedure for Nitrogen Isotopic Analysis of Nitrate by Bacterial Denitrification

Appendix D. Step-by-Step Procedure to Add Sample Information to Sequence Table

Appendix E. Step-by-Step Procedure to Transfer Data to LIMS-LSI, to Transfer Data to Back-Up Computer, and to Reevaluate Old Data

Appendix F. Step-by-Step Procedure to Determine and Apply Correction Factors and Evaluate Data

Appendix G. Daily Check List

Appendix H. Step-by-Step Procedure to Report Data

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