Articles | Volume 8, issue 10
Research article
23 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 23 Oct 2015

An analytical system for the measurement of stable hydrogen isotopes in ambient volatile organic compounds

T. Meisehen, F. Bühler, R. Koppmann, and M. Krebsbach

Abstract. Stable isotope measurements in atmospheric volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are an excellent tool to analyse chemical and dynamical processes in the atmosphere. While up to now isotope studies of VOCs in ambient air have mainly focussed on carbon isotopes, we herein present a new measurement system to investigate hydrogen isotope ratios in atmospheric VOCs. This system, consisting of a gas chromatography pyrolysis isotope ratio mass spectrometer (GC-P-IRMS) and a pre-concentration system, was thoroughly characterised using a VOC test mixture. A precision of better than 9 ‰ (in δ 2H) is achieved for n-pentane, 2-methyl-1,3-butadiene (isoprene), n-heptane, 4-methyl-pentane-2-one (4-methyl-2-pentanone), methylbenzene (toluene), n-octane, ethylbenzene, m/p-xylene and 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene. A comparison with independent measurements via elemental analysis shows an accuracy of better than 9 ‰ for n-pentane, n-heptane, 4-methyl-2-pentanone, toluene and n-octane. Above a minimum required pre-concentrated compound mass the obtained δ 2H values are constant within the standard deviations. In addition, a remarkable influence of the pyrolysis process on the isotope ratios is found and discussed. Reliable measurements are only possible if the ceramic tube used for the pyrolysis is sufficiently conditioned, i.e. the inner surface is covered with a carbon layer. It is essential to verify this conditioning regularly and to renew it if required. Furthermore, influences of a necessary H3+ correction and the pyrolysis temperature on the isotope ratios are discussed. Finally, the applicability to measure hydrogen isotope ratios in VOCs at ambient levels is demonstrated with measurements of outside air on 5 different days in February and March 2015. The measured hydrogen isotope ratios range from −136 to −105 ‰ forn-pentane, from −86 to −63 ‰ for toluene, from −39 to −15 ‰ for ethylbenzene, from −99 to −68 ‰ for m/p-xylene and from −45 to −34 ‰ for o-xylene.