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Abstract

A new method was developed to analyze the stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios of small samples (400 ± 20 µg) of calcium carbonate. This new method streamlines the classical phosphoric acid/calcium carbonate (H3PO4/CaCO3) reaction method by making use of a recently available Thermoquest-Finnigan GasBench II preparation device and a Delta Plus XL continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer. Conditions for which the H3PO4/CaCO3 reaction produced reproducible and accurate results with minimal error had to be determined. When the acid/carbonate reaction temperature was kept at 26 °C and the reaction time was between 24 and 54 h, the precision of the carbon and oxygen isotope ratios for pooled samples from three reference standard materials was ≤0.1 and ≤0.2 per mill or ‰, respectively, although later analysis showed that materials from one specific standard required reaction time between 34 and 54 h for δ18O to achieve this level of precision. Aliquot screening methods were shown to further minimize the total error. The accuracy and precision of the new method were analyzed and confirmed by statistical analysis. The utility of the method was verified by analyzing calcite from Devils Hole, Nevada, for which isotope-ratio values had previously been obtained by the classical method. Devils Hole core DH-11 recently had been re-cut and re-sampled, and isotope-ratio values were obtained using the new method. The results were comparable with those obtained by the classical method with correlation = +0.96 for both isotope ratios. The consistency of the isotopic results is such that an alignment offset could be identified in the re-sampled core material, and two cutting errors that occurred during re-sampling then were confirmed independently. This result indicates that the new method is a viable alternative to the classical reaction method. In particular, the new method requires less sample material permitting finer resolution and allows automation of some processes resulting in considerable time savings. Published in 2002 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.