NIGK15026U Stable Isotope Geochemistry

Volume 2015/2016

MSc Programme in Geography and Geoinformatics


The course has the objective to introduce the principles and use of stable isotopic systems as tracers of geochemical and biological processes with a focus on terrestrial ecosystems, but also include marine and atmospheric aspects. This will include terminology, notations and standards in stable isotope work, theory of isotopic equilibrium and fractionation, and analytical features. Practical examples on isotopic applications will be demonstrated in relation to relevant scientific questions and challenges addressing the interactions between global change and earth systems (greenhouse gases; carbon and nitrogen in soils; hydrological cycles; paleo climates)

Learning Outcome


Stable isotope analytical techniques (mass spectrometry; infrared laser spectroscopy). Isotopic reference materials; Abundance and characteristics of elements that undergo isotopic fractionation (kinetic effects; equilibrium effects; fractionation factors). Application of stable isotopes, tracers vs. natural abundance. Hydrosphere (precipitation; ice). Carbon in low temperature environments (C-cycle; C-reservoirs; soils; plants; biogeography; sediments; atmosphere). Sulfur and minerals in low temperature environments. Nitrogen (N-cycle; food-webs; diet; greenhouse-gases).


  • The course will provide a solid knowledge base for the student to conduct their own research using stable isotope applications in geologic, biologic, water and air samples (H, C, N, O, S).
  • The student will achieve survey-level knowledge of the major stable isotopic systems being able to describe the compositions and dynamics of the Earth system.
  • In-depth, research-level understanding of one or more stable isotopic systems (interaction with the physical and chemical environment, and human activity).
  • Apply and solve algebraic equations involving isotopic mixing and fractionation
  • Evaluate demands and prerequisites for accurate isotopic analysis in various sample materials


Identify which scientific problems and environmental questions can be solved with stable isotopes

Read and understand scientific literature on stable isotopic systems, and critically analyze and evaluate current research

Communicate in written or oral form scientific results to fellow students and scientists.

Please see Absalon course page

BSc in Geography and Geoinformatics or equivalent
The form of teaching is exercises combined with ad hoc lectures. For the teaching plan, please see Absalon.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 136
  • Project work
  • 35
  • Theory exercises
  • 35
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 min
Written assignment
The written assignment is prepared during the course and must be handed in prior to the exam week. The oral exam uses the written assignment as its point of departure. It includes the titles listed in the officially approved reading list.
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.

A written assignment handed in prior to an oral exam, 20 minuttes.

Criteria for exam assesment

Please see learning outcome.