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Towards Organic Carbon Isotope Records from Stalagmites: Coupled δ13C and 14C Analysis Using Wet Chemical Oxidation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 April 2019

Franziska A Lechleitner*
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3AN, UK Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Sonneggstrasse 5, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham, Science Site, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
Susan Q Lang
School of the Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of South Carolina, 701 Sumter Street, EWS 617, Columbia SC 29208, USA
Negar Haghipour
Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Sonneggstrasse 5, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics, Department of Physics, ETH Zurich, Otto-Stern-Weg 5, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
Cameron McIntyre
Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0GF, UK
James U L Baldini
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham, Science Site, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
Keith M Prufer
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87106, USA
Timothy I Eglinton
Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Sonneggstrasse 5, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
*Corresponding author. Email:


Speleothem organic matter can be a powerful tracer for past environmental conditions and karst processes. Carbon isotope measurements (δ13C and 14C) in particular can provide crucial information on the provenance and age of speleothem organic matter, but are challenging due to low concentrations of organic matter in stalagmites. Here, we present a method development study on extraction and isotopic characterization of speleothem organic matter using a rapid procedure with low laboratory contamination risk. An extensive blank assessment allowed us to quantify possible sources of contamination through the entire method. Although blank contamination is consistently low (1.7 ± 0.34 – 4.3 ± 0.86 μg C for the entire procedure), incomplete sample decarbonation poses a still unresolved problem of the method, but can be detected when considering both δ13C and 14C values. We test the method on five stalagmites, showing reproducible results on samples as small as 7 μg C for δ13C and 20 μg C for 14C. Furthermore, we find consistently lower non-purgeable organic carbon (NPOC) 14C values compared to the carbonate 14C over the bomb spike interval in two stalagmites from Yok Balum Cave, Belize, suggesting overprint of a pre-aged or even fossil source of carbon on the organic fraction incorporated by these stalagmites.

Research Article
© 2019 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona 

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