Using a simple high-performance liquid chromatography separation and fraction collection methodology to achieve compound-specific isotopic analysis for dissolved organic compounds



A new application for the quantitative and isotopic analyses of dissolved inorganic and dissolved organic carbon compounds has been developed. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in natural water samples can be separated on a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) column and collected as fractions. Each discrete fraction can then be analyzed using the technique of St-Jean (Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 2003; 17: 419–428) with a total inorganic carbon/total organic carbon (TIC/TOC) analyzer interfaced with a continuous-flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer. Experimental data using short-chain fatty acid standards (formic, acetic, and propionic acids) show that fraction recoveries of 100% are possible and that sample integrity is maintained. 13C-isotopic analyses of products prior to and subsequent to extraction and collection show no isotopic effects associated with the methodology, and errors are well within the accepted analytical uncertainty of the IRMS. Comparison of data from pure standards and organic-rich natural waters shows that quantitative analyses still need to be done with standards that more closely imitate the matrices of the samples, in order to acquire an appropriate calibration curve. Injections of organic-rich matrices on the HPLC column did not affect fraction recovery, nor did they create high background of partially retained organic compounds slowly released from the HPLC column, and hence 13C-isotopic results are relatively unaffected. The specific limitation on this methodology is the required use of carbon-free carrier solvents due to potential memory effects associated with the TIC/TOC analyzer. Further developments of this application could make routine compound-specific isotopic analyses (CSIA) for a wider range of organic materials possible. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.