Fundamentals of Stable Isotope Chemistry and Measurement

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Understanding the power of stable isotopes in research requires general knowledge of the fundamental principles of stable isotope chemistry as well as, more specifically, how the ratios of biologically relevant lighter stable isotopes of H, C, N, O, and S in the biosphere are measured using modern isotope ratio mass spectrometers (IRMS). Here, we provide a primer to these topics. The chapter serves as a springboard to the following chapters in this book. We make no attempt to be comprehensive. For more detailed reading on stable isotope chemistry or geochemistry we encourage readers to see treatments by Criss (1999), Hoefs (1997), Faure (1986) or Gat and Gonfiantini (1981). For in-depth discussions on particular topics we refer you to recent works by Kendall and McDonnell (1998; hydrology), Griffiths (1998; biology, ecology, atmospheric science, biogeochemistry), Clark and Fritz (1997; hydrogeology), Boutton and Yamasaki (1996; soils), Lajtha and Michener (1994; environmental sciences), Ehleringer et al. (1993; plant ecophysiology) and Rundel et al. (1989; ecology).