Articles | Volume 4, issue 6
Research article
22 Jun 2011
Research article |  | 22 Jun 2011

Analytical system for stable carbon isotope measurements of low molecular weight (C2-C6) hydrocarbons

A. Zuiderweg, R. Holzinger, and T. Röckmann

Abstract. We present setup, testing and initial results from a new automated system for stable carbon isotope ratio measurements on C2 to C6 atmospheric hydrocarbons. The inlet system allows analysis of trace gases from air samples ranging from a few liters for urban samples and samples with high mixing ratios, to many tens of liters for samples from remote unpolluted regions with very low mixing ratios. The centerpiece of the sample preparation is the separation trap, which is used to separate CO2 and methane from the compounds of interest. The main features of the system are (i) the capability to sample up to 300 l of air, (ii) long term (since May 2009) operational δ13C accuracy levels in the range 0.3–0.8 ‰ (1-σ), and (iii) detection limits of order 1.5–2.5 ngC (collected amount of substance) for all reported compounds.

The first application of this system was the analysis of 21 ambient air samples taken during 48 h in August 2009 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Results obtained are generally in good agreement with those from similar urban ambient air studies. Short sample intervals allowed by the design of the instrument help to illustrate the complex diurnal behavior of hydrocarbons in an urban environment, where diverse sources, dynamical processes, and chemical reactions are present.