EGU22-1335, updated on 27 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Analysis of methane clumped isotopologues with laser absorption spectroscopy

Ivan Prokhorov1, Béla Tuzson1, Nico Kueter2, Ricarda Rosskopf2, Gang Li3, Volker Ebert3, Lukas Emmenegger1, Stefano M. Bernasconi2, and Joachim Mohn1
Ivan Prokhorov et al.
  • 1Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology - Empa, Dübendorf, Switzerland (
  • 2Geological Institute, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
  • 3Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), Braunschweig, Germany

Clumped isotope thermometry deals with the relative abundance of molecules that contain more than one of the rare isotopes. For methane, 13CH3D and 12CH2D2 isotopologues have been recently proposed as promising tracers in geological, biogeochemical, and atmospheric studies. Their relative abundance denoted as Δ13CH3D and Δ13CH3D is a direct temperature proxy which may, however, also be influenced by kinetic isotope effects. Therefore, thermometry using two independent clumped isotopologues increases the reliability of temperature reconstruction, since departures from thermodynamic equilibrium can be interpreted with respect to kinetic processes or mixing of methane from various methane formation pathways [1,2].

We present an analytical technique based on direct absorption laser spectroscopy for precise, direct, and simultaneous detection of all isotopologues involved in the isotope exchange reactions 12CH4 + 13CH3D = 13CH4 + 12CH3D and 12CH4 + 12CH2D2 = 2·12CH3D. In contrast to HR-IRMS, which requires ultra-high mass-resolving power M/ΔM > 30000 to achieve a reasonable selectivity for M/z = 18 isotopologues, optical detection is intrinsically free from isobaric interferences and is capable to analyze comparable amounts of sample within a measurement time of tens of minutes. We achieved a precision of 0.02‰ and 0.2‰ for Δ13CH3D and Δ12CH2D2, respectively, with an external reproducibility of better than 0.1‰ and 1‰ (1σ) for 10 reference-sample repetitions. The instrument employs two quantum cascade lasers (DFB QCL, Alpes Lasers) emitting around 8.6 μm and 9.3 μm spectral regions to simultaneously probe the transitions of all five above-mentioned isotopologues. An astygmatic Herriott-type optical multipass cell with 413 m optical path length (Aerodyne Research Inc.) allows for working with pure methane samples as little as 10 ml to enable the measurement of both Δ13CH3D and Δ12CH2D2. Rare isotopologues line positions and intensities were surveyed using high-resolution FTIR spectroscopy and validated by laser spectroscopy. The instrument is coupled to a fully automated inlet system and a cryogen-free methane preconcentration unit [3]. Relevant aspects of instrument calibration using methane re-equilibrated in 50-300°C range over γ-Al2O3 catalyst and overview of future applications will also be discussed.

[1] Douglas, P., et al. Methane clumped isotopes: Progress and potential for a new isotopic tracer, Organic Geochemistry, 113, 262-282, (2017)

[2] Chung, E., & Arnold, T. Potential of clumped isotopes in constraining the global atmospheric methane budget. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 35, e2020GB006883, (2021)

[3] Prokhorov, I. and Mohn, J.: Cryogen-free fully automated preconcentration unit to enable Δ13CH3D and Δ12CH2D2 analysis, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-132, (2021)

How to cite: Prokhorov, I., Tuzson, B., Kueter, N., Rosskopf, R., Li, G., Ebert, V., Emmenegger, L., Bernasconi, S. M., and Mohn, J.: Analysis of methane clumped isotopologues with laser absorption spectroscopy, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-1335,, 2022.