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Chemical Biomarkers in Aquatic Ecosystems$
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Thomas S. Bianchi and Elizabeth A. Canuel

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691134147

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691134147.001.0001

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Stable Isotopes and Radiocarbon

Stable Isotopes and Radiocarbon

(p.30) 3. Stable Isotopes and Radiocarbon
Chemical Biomarkers in Aquatic Ecosystems

Thomas S. Bianchi

Elizabeth A. Canuel

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the basic principles surrounding the application of stable isotopes in natural ecosystems, which are based on variations in the relative abundance of lighter isotopes from chemical rather than nuclear processes. Due to faster reaction kinetics of the lighter isotope of an element, reaction products in nature can be enriched in the lighter isotope. These fractionation processes can be complex, but have proven to be useful in determining geothermometry and paleoclimatology, as well as sources of organic matter in ecological studies. The most common stable isotopes used in oceanic and estuarine studies are 18O, 2H, 13C, 15N, and 34S. The preference for using such isotopes is related to their low atomic mass, significant mass differences in isotopes, covalent character in bonding, multiple oxidations states, and sufficient abundance of the rare isotope. Living plants and animals in the biosphere contain a constant level of 14C, but when they die there is no further exchange with the atmosphere and the activity of 14C decreases with a half-life of 5730 ± 40 yr; this provides the basis for establishing the age of archeological objects and fossil remains.

Keywords:   natural ecosystems, stable isotopes, fractionation, geothermometry, paleoclimatology

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