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RATIONALE

Stable isotope analyses of trace amounts of nitrous oxide gas require special instrumentation and laborious sample preparation methods that have hindered many laboratories from measuring this potent greenhouse gas. A simple modification to an Elemental Analyzer (EA) coupled to an Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) setup that allows users to measure the N and C isotopic ratios of nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) by injecting the gases directly into the EA is described.

METHODS

The standard EA was fitted with a gas injection port and a home-made packed column filled with Hayesep Q polymer. A gas mixture of 3.1% N2O in helium (He) was injected directly into the EA. This method allowed large volumes of sample to be injected without saturating the column.

RESULTS

The use of the home-made column resulted in better resolution of sample peaks and allowed smaller concentrations of the analyte to be injected. This study showed that this method produced accurate and reproducible stable isotope measurements with sample injection volumes ranging from 100 to 5000 μL, containing between 20 and 1000 nmol of analyte.

CONCLUSIONS

This simple, inexpensive method can be useful for the laboratories that do not have access to more advanced and expensive interfaces to analyze nanomolar quantities of N2O and CO2 from microbiological and ecological studies and offers a simple alternative for in-house measurements of these trace gases. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.