22 Sep 2021

22 Sep 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal AMT.

IRIS analyser assessment reveals sub-hourly variability of isotope ratios in carbon dioxide at Baring Head, New Zealand's atmospheric observatory in the Southern Ocean

Peter Sperlich1, Gordon W. Brailsford1, Rowena C. Moss1, John McGregor1, Ross J. Martin1, Sylvia Nichol1, Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher1, Beata Bukosa1, Magda Mandic2, Ian Schipper3, and Paul Krummel4 Peter Sperlich et al.
  • 1National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Wellington, New Zealand
  • 2Thermo Fisher Science, Bremen, Germany
  • 3Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • 4Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Aspendale, Australia

Abstract. We assess the performance of an Isotope Ratio Infrared Spectrometer (IRIS) to measure carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotope ratios in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and report observations from a 26 day field deployment trial at Baring Head, New Zealand, NIWA's atmospheric observatory for Southern Ocean baseline air. Our study describes an operational method to improve the performance in comparison to previous publications on this analytical technique. By using a calibration technique that reflected the principle of identical treatment of sample and reference gases, we achieved a reproducibility of 0.07 ‰ for δ13C-CO2 and 0.06 ‰ for δ18O-CO2 over multiple days. This performance is within the "extended compatibility goal" of 0.1 ‰ for both δ13C-CO2 and δ18O-CO2, which was recommended by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) for studies of regional or urban CO2 fluxes. One goal of this study was to assess the capabilities and limitations of the IRIS analyser to resolve δ13C-CO2 and δ18O-CO2 variations under field conditions. Therefore, we selected multiple events within the 26 day record for Keeling Plot Analysis. This resolved the isotopic composition of end members with an uncertainty of ≤ 1 ‰ when the magnitude of CO2 signals is larger than 10 ppm. The uncertainty of the Keeling Plot Analysis strongly increased for smaller CO2 events (2–7 ppm), where the instrument performance is the limiting factor and may only allow for the distinction between very different end members, such as the role of terrestrial versus oceanic carbon cycle processes.

Further improvement in measurement performance is desirable to meet the WMO "network compatibility goal" of 0.01 ‰ for δ13C-CO2 and 0.05 ‰ for δ18O-CO2, which is needed to resolve the small variability that is typical for background air observatories such as Baring Head.

Peter Sperlich et al.

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Peter Sperlich et al.

Peter Sperlich et al.


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Short summary
We tested an in situ analyser for carbon and oxygen isotopes in atmospheric CO2 at Baring Head, New Zealand’s observatory for Southern Ocean baseline air. The analyser was capable to resolve regional signals of the terrestrial carbon cycle, although the analysis of small events was limited by analytical uncertainty. Further improvement of the instrument performance would be desirable for the robust analysis of distant signals, and to resolve the small variability in Southern Ocean baseline air.