Latest Developments in Methane Isotope Analysis // by Andi Smith

Andi Smith is a Stable Isotope Geochemist at the BGS. Here he tells us about the facility's new Sercon GryoGas instrument, which was presented at the EGU General Assembly...

Andi presenting at EGU
Recent requirements for understanding methane formation processes has led to investment in a new stable isotope mass spectrometer by the BGS. This instrument is specifically designed to analyse both carbon and hydrogen isotopes in water and gas samples and is perfectly set up to support large groundwater and soil gas surveys. As part of the launch of this equipment the stable isotope team including Prof. Melanie Leng and Dr Andi Smith went and presented the new instrumentation at European General Assembly last month.

The Sercon CryoGas unit
The British Geological Survey has recently invested in a first of its kind, automated system for the analysis of methane isotopes (both C and H). This system was designed and built as part of a collaborative project between Sercon Ltd and members of staff at the National Environmental Isotope Facility, BGS Keyworth. The system is set up to undertake rapid throughput, high precision isotope measuments and is perfect for analysing the kind of baseline samples regularly collected by the BGS, as well offering a great new facility for the wider research community.

The system uses the Sercon CryoGas unit with a series of cryogenic and chemical traps, alongside gas chromatography columns to separate methane from other gasses, including major gases such as oxygen, CO2 and nitrogen. Once separated the methane is broken down into its component parts (carbon and hydrogen) and each can be analysed on the Sercon 2022 mass spectrometer for stable isotope composition. The automatic sampling unit means that between 21 and 250 samples can be run in an automated batch, drastically increasing sample throughput.  

Currently the system is being used to analyse carbon in methane and our first BGS soil survey samples will be analysed within the next few weeks. We also have the option to analyse carbon isotopes in CO2, so this instrument could be of wider interest to a number of groups within the BGS.

I am very excited to develop new applications and collaborations surrounding the isotope analysis of methane and CO2, so please free to contact me or come along and discuss your project ideas!

To find out more about the research in this post contact Dr Andi Smith or via Twitter @AndiSmith10.

EGU provides a great platform for sharing and discussing new research with scientists from around the world, holding workshops, attending short courses and training sessions, and meeting up with colleagues. To catch up with all the BGS activity at the conference check out #EGU19 and also be sure to take a look at the @BritGeoSurvey Twitter feed.