Isotope analysis of hydrocarbons: Trapping, recovering and archiving hydrocarbons and halocarbons separated from ambient air

M. Pupek, S.S. Assonov, J. Mühle, T.S. Rhee, D. Oram, C. Koeppel, F. Slemr, C.A.M. Brenninkmeijer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


It is argued that isotope analysis of atmospheric non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) and, in particular, the analysis of the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio is valuable because the dominant self-cleansing property of the troposphere is based on the OH radical which removes, e.g., CH and other alkanes by H-atom abstraction, which induces large kinetic isotope effects. The major obstacle in applying D/H isotope analysis to atmospheric NMHCs is not only the low abundance of D itself but, in particular, the low concentrations of NMHCs in the parts per trillion range. We show how a selection of NMHCs can be quantitatively separated from 300 L air samples together with CO as carrier gas matrix, by using high efficiency cryogenic traps. After diluting the extracted NMHC mixtures with hydrocarbon free air, and determining the mixing ratios, good agreement with original whole air sample analysis exists for alkanes and several halocarbons. For unsaturated hydrocarbons and some other halocarbons the extraction and recovery yield under the given conditions fell considerably, as a function of boiling point. Furthermore, the mixture of NMHCs in the CO matrix is proven to remain unchanged over several years when conveniently stored in glass ampoules. The 'extracts' or 'concentrates' of condensables extracted from larger air samples will enable the D/H isotope analysis of ultra trace gases in the atmosphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-460
Number of pages6
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005

Cite this