NIGK22001U Use of Stable Isotopes for Advanced Studies of Environmental and Soil Biogeochemical Processes

Volume 2022/2023

MSc Programme in Geography and Geoinformatics
MSc Programme in Geography and Geoinformatics with a minor subject


The course teaches state-of-the art principles and methodologies interfacing soil science and the field of isotope geochemistry. The course emphasizes the connection between fundamental processes in soils (C, N cycling), vegetation and application of stable isotope techniques to unravel the link between terrestrial processes and atmosphere.

Accordingly, the course focuses on modern concepts of soil biogeochemical functioning and explains advanced state-of-the art experimental and technical approaches to unravel soil processes to understand soil functions in natural and managed soils. The course has a particular focus on application of advanced stable isotope analysis as tracers of geochemical and biological processes in terrestrial systems as a mean to establish knowledge on the interaction between physical and chemical environment and human activity.

The course includes practical exercises with soil and air isotopic analysis.

Learning Outcome


  • Terminology, notations and analysis in stable isotope work
  • Isotope fractionation; kinetic and equilibrium reactions; natural abundance and tracers; mixing models
  • Stable isotope analysis of bulk soil, soil elements and gases
  • Abundance and characteristics of elements/compounds that undergo isotopic fractionation in soil environment
  • Understanding the cycling of Carbon and Nitrogen in soils (C and N-cycles; stocks; atmosphere)
  • Methods to determine different C and N fractions
  • Conceptual understanding of different soil organic matter pools
  • Analytical methods to study soil processes in-situ in the rhizosphere and detritusphere
  • Linking soil physical structure to plant and microbial activity



  • Apply correct scientific terms and definitions
  • Apply and solve algebraic equations involving isotopic two- and three-end mixing models
  • Identify and describe prerequisites for applications of stable isotope techniques in terrestrial settings (H, C, N, O, S)
  • Identify and describe key processes that can be investigated by isotope techniques.
  • Identify and apply methods to determine different C and N pools in soils
  • Apply methods to determine C and N in differently stabilized soil fractions and calculate C and N distribution and stocks



  • Formulate proposals to identify and solve complex geographical problems and questions related to impacts on soil functionality and Earth systems (climate change, land use, management)
  • Evaluate and discuss demands and prerequisites for accurate isotopic analysis in various sample materials
  • Evaluate and discuss experimental and analytical approaches to study soils as a complex system
  • Evaluate, discuss and explain scientific publications to fellow students and scientists

Please see Absalon.

BSc in Geography and Geoinformatics or equivalent is recommended
The form of teaching is a combination of practical (laboratory) and theoretical exercises, mixed with ad hoc lectures. We will also read, present and discuss scientific literature. For the teaching plan, please see Absalon.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 14
  • Preparation
  • 171
  • Theory exercises
  • 15
  • Laboratory
  • 6
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)

Tha course has substantial practical content, and feedback is given orally during the course based on the performance of students during the practical field- and laboratory activities.

An oral feedback is given in response to the written assignement.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, During course
Oral examination, 20 minutes
Type of assessment details
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. The oral exam is without preparation and includes the titles listed in the officially approved reading list. A combined grade is given after the oral exam.
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.

Resubmission of written assignment, handed in prior to the re-examination week.

Twenty minutes oral examination. The oral exam uses the written assignment as its point of departure. It includes the approved reading list. A combined grade is given after the oral exam.

Criteria for exam assesment

Please see learning outcomes