New powerful mass spectrometer at the British Geological Survey

The British Geological Survey (BGS) took delivery of a new mass spectrometer this month. This instrument, acquired with joint funding from the University of Nottingham, will provide the UK’s environmental geoscience community access to one of the most precise research equipment for use in environmental research. Melanie Leng tells us more.

The mass spectrometer is an instrument used to measure tiny differences in the masses of naturally occurring molecules (chemistry) that result from changes in the environment. Within the Stable Isotope Group here at the BGS we have eight instruments that we use for measuring small changes in the chemistry of our environment. This new instrument has high sensitivity, meaning that it can detect very small changes in geochemistry or can be used to measure very small samples. We can analyse, for example, tiny shells from the ocean that are smaller than a grain of sand. The chemistry of these shells provide information on changes in the chemistry of the oceans which is linked to past changes in the size of the ice caps. We analyse sediments that accumulate in lakes and oceans, and the ice at the poles, to track climate over time. Point sources of pollution can be traced, for example the sources of high nitrogen levels in water bodies from agriculture or sewage works. We also use these instruments in archaeological research, for example to measure the chemistry of bones and teeth that informs on the diet of ancient people and also helps to understand trade routes and migrations.

Prof Mel Leng with the new mass spectrometer

The Stable Isotope Group at the British Geological Survey has a range of different mass spectrometers. The new instrument expands our cutting edge research capabilities and is available for all UK geoscientists to use in the course of their research. Please contact us if you think you might be like to take advantage of our National Capability provision.

Funding to purchase the new mass spectrometer came from the National Capability funding to the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham.

Prof Melanie Leng manages the Stable Isotope Group which is part of the NERC IsotopeGeosciences Facilities. She is also Director of the Centre for EnvironmentalGeochemistry, a joint venture between the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey.

Follow Mel on Twitter @MelJLeng