Frostburg, Md. (November 3, 2010) A new partnership among several regional institutions has established a high-tech laboratory in the Central Appalachians for using stable isotopes to study how past, present and future environmental changes influence terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. With the opening of the Central Appalachians Stable Isotope Facility (CASIF) at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Appalachian Laboratory, researchers now have access to a powerful tool for understanding how and when environmental change occurs.
In this growing field, researchers use an instrument called an isotope ratio mass spectrometer to determine the isotopic composition of samples of materials such as water, pollen, leaves and soils. Isotopes are different forms of the same chemical element that vary in the number of neutrons in their nucleus, which gives them slight differences in mass. For example, carbon has two stable isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13. Carbon-12 has 6 neutrons, whereas carbon-13 has 7. The mass spectrometer is capable of detecting these small differences in mass, which provides important information for studying changes to ecosystems over time.
Previously, scientists needed to travel hundreds of miles or ship their samples elsewhere for analysis. Now, thanks to a $434,000 research award from the National Science Foundation, area researchers have local access to a state-of-the-art isotope ratio mass spectrometer in Frostburg.
"With more than a dozen researchers from the Appalachian Laboratory (AL), Frostburg State University (FSU), West Virginia University (WVU) and the Canaan Valley Institute (CVI) currently conducting this type of research, establishing a regional facility in Frostburg makes a lot of sense," said Appalachian Laboratory scientist and CASIF Director Dr. David Nelson. "Not only will this new facility help foster collaboration among scientists from across the area, it also will provid
|Contact: Christopher Conner|
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science