Oxygen isotopic fractionation in the photochemistry of nitrate in water and ice

J. R. McCabe, C. S. Boxe, A. J. Colussi, M. R. Hoffmann, M. H. Thiemens

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45 Scopus citations


We recently reported the first multiple oxygen isotope composition of nitrate (NO3-) in ice cores (Alexander et al., 2004). Postdepositional photolysis and volatilization may alter the isotopic signatures of snowpack nitrate. Therefore the precise assessment of the geochemical/ atmospheric significance of O-isotopic signatures requires information on the relative rates of photolysis (λ > 300 nm) of N16O3-, N16O217O-, and N16O218O- in ice. Here we report on 17O- and 18O-fractionation in the 313-nm photolysis of 10-mM aqueous solutions of normal Fisher KNO3 (i.e., Δ17O = -0.2 ± 0.2‰) and 17O-enriched USGS-35 NaNO317O = 21.0 ± 0.4‰) between -30° and 25°C. We found that Fisher KNO3 undergoes mass-dependent O-fractionation, i.e., a process that preserves Δ 17O = 0. In contrast, Δ 17O in USGS-35 NaNO3 decreased by 1.6 ± 0.4‰ and 2.0 ± 0.4‰ at 25°C, 1.2 ± 0.4‰ and 1.3 ± 0.4‰ at -5°C, and 0.2 ± 0.4‰ and 1.1 ± 0.4‰ at -30°C, after 12 and 24 hours, respectively. Since the small quantum yield (∼0.2%) of NO3- photodecomposition into (NO2 + OH) is due to extensive cage recombination of the primary photofragments rather than to intramolecular processes, the observed Δ 17O decreases likely reflect competitive O-isotope exchange of geminate OH-radicals with H2O (Δ 17O = 0) and escape from the solvent cage, in addition to residual O-isotope mixing of the final photoproducts NO, NO2, NO2 -, with H2O. At the prevailing low temperatures, photochemical processing will not impair the diagnostic value of O-isotopic signatures in tracing the chemical ancestry of nitrate in polar ice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 16 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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