Use of Isotopic Tracers in Environmental and Contaminant Monitoring

Wall L, ; Berry-Lyons W, ; Dobos S K,
Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 2
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1991
The air we breathe and both plant and animal matter consist largely of nitrogen, oxygen carbon and hydrogen; each of these elements has two or more isotopes, The rocks, soils and waters on which we live and from which we extract minerals and other resources are comprised of elements such as oxygen, silicon, hydrogen, sulphur, iron and magnesium; each of which has two or more isotopes. Since isotopes of an element behave identically in chemical reactions, they cannot be separated or analysed by chemical means. The different isotopes of a particular element, however, vary in mass, reflecting the variation in the number of neutrons in their nuclei, so that physical processes based on the relative atomic masses of the isotopes are used to separate and analyse them (eg, mass spectrometry). Many biologic, atmospheric and geologic processes alter the ratios of the different isotop1ees of many elements. The isotope ratios D/H and O/ O, for example, exhibit significant variations in natural waters because of isotope fractionation during evaporation and condensation. Isotope analyses of both naturally-occurring and synthetic isotopes in the near-surface and biospheric environments can be used to understand natural processes and predict the results of man's interaction with his environment.
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