Stable Isotopes of Oxygen and Carbon and their Application to Sedimentologic and Paleoenvironmental Problems
Thomas F. Anderson, Michael A. Arthur, 1983. "Stable Isotopes of Oxygen and Carbon and their Application to Sedimentologic and Paleoenvironmental Problems", Stable Isotopes in Sedimentary Geology, Michael A. Arthur, Thomas F. Anderson, Isaac R. Kaplan, Jan Veizer, Lynton S. Land
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Isotopes are atoms whose nuclei contain the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons. There are about 300 stable (non-radioactive) isotopes in nature. (The number of unstable, radioactive isotopes is in excess of 1200.) 62 of the 83 stable elements (H to Bi) have at least two isotopes; in most cases one isotope is predominant, the others being present in only trace amounts.
To a first approximation, the isotopes of an element behave almost identically, since chemical behavior is governed by the electron structure of the atom and hence on the number of protons in the nucleus.
Although this approximation is satisfactory for many experimental systems in the laboratory, it does not apply to many chemical, physical, and biological processes in nature. Differences in isotopic mass lead to subtle but significant differences in the behavior of the isotopes of an element during natural processes. This is the basis for the field of stable isotope geochemistry.
The application of stable isotope variations to geological problems has focused on the elements of low atomic weight: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. Since the magnitude of ”isotope effects“ is proportional to the relative mass difference between isotopes (Am/m), significant isotopic variations in nature are limited to the light elements. In addition, H, C, N, 0, and S occur in relatively high abundance, participate in most important geochemical reactions, and are the most important elements in biological systems. Table 1-1 lists the average abundance of the isotopes of these elements as
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Stable isotope geochemistry has come into its own in the last few years as our inventory of processes and materials has improved from the result of much basic research. Stable isotope techniques should become a standard application to most studies of sedimentary rocks and depositional environments; it has much application in exploration for hydrocarbons as well as in basic research. Rapid progress depends on adequate and proper education of professionals in the techniques, the correct selection of samples, consideration of problems of interpretation, and concern for other types of data required to constrain interpretation of stable isotopic data. This text is designed to deal with the application of stable isotopes to geologic problems.