Picarro Blog

Opening Up Entirely New Field Applications With Picarro's New Carbon Isotopes Analyzer

Hi, there. I'm Kevin Cunningham and I am the product manager for isotopic carbon analyzers at Picarro. I got my PhD in laser spectroscopy (but don't hold that against me) so it has been thrilling to work at Picarro where laser spectroscopy has been applied to so many other fields. And, you may have noticed, we have been announcing some fantastic innovations lately and now its my turn. The new G2131-i isotopic analyzer improves the precision levels for δ13C measurements by 3X with a guaranteed specification of 0.1 per mil at 380 parts per million. And long-term stability has also improved. Our drift specification for this analyzer is <0.5 per mil based on a 24-hour period of peak-to-peak hourly averages, a 4x improvement over our previous instrument specs for isotopic carbon analyzers.

So why is this significant? With the G2131-i analyzer, scientists can perform applications previously reserved for continuous flow IRMS systems due to precision limitations. What's more, the scientists can perform these applications in the field in remote locations. Oceanographers at sea measuring stable carbon isotopes in Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) in the water column need to achieve the 0.1 per mil precision threshold for their applications with a floating lab. That's unprecedented. To date, they have had to collect flask samples, ship them to an isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) lab, pay for the testing and wait months for the results. Or sit, bored stiff, in a basement running the IRMS themselves.

Now a scientific voyage with this instrument could not only measure water column samples on the boat but possibly run sampling on a continuous basis recording data in near real-time. Having this immediate feedback capability introduces an entirely novel possibility - redirecting an experiment in mid-stream in reaction to data findings. So a team studying a specific ocean phenomenon that gets enough data can quickly turn to another experiment and maximize experiment time. Or, alternatively, a research group at sea can identify bad data instantaneously and trouble-shoot on the fly, potentially salvaging an expensive and time-consuming research campaign.

In atmospheric science, measuring carbon isotopes in real-time on a continuous basis has been possible but never before with this level of precision. Getting down to the 0.1 per mil precision level could open up entirely new lines of inquiry in atmospheric sciences for remote continuous monitoring, for example, with regard to analyzing changes in atmopspheric carbon composition as a tracer for climate change or othe ecosystem shifts.

In the related fields of plant physiology, ecosystem respiration, flux measurements, carbon cycling and carbon budgeting, scientists will gain a truly granular measurement capability for ongoing shifts in carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) as tracer or as evidence for changes in natural processes and ecological behaviors.

The common thread I want to emphasize is that we at Picarro are committed to delivering instruments that do not force compromises on scientists. We want to make instruments that can deliver the best precision whether they are in the lab or in the field. As a scientist, I am proud to help build these types of tools that expand what is possible for researchers. Picarro CRDS analyzers are advancing measurement science beyond expensive, lab-bound, and hard-to-maintain IRMS systems and taking world-class measurement to places where the action is - the volcanoes, the oceans, the forests, the sea floor, the tops of mountains. The G2131-i is only our latest contribution to this effort and it won't be the last.

Thanks for reading and if you have any application questions, please contact me at kcunningham - at - Picarro.com.