Definition: Isotopic Analysis
Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons. An isotopic analysis looks at a particular isotopic element(s) in a given system, while the conditions which increase/decrease the number of neutrons are well understood and measurable.
- Isotope analysis is the identification of isotopic signature, the distribution of certain stable isotopes and chemical elements within chemical compounds. This can be applied to a food web to make it possible to draw direct inferences regarding diet, trophic level, and subsistence. Variations in isotope ratios from isotopic fractionation are measured using mass spectrometry, which separates the different isotopes of an element on the basis of their mass-to-charge ratio.The ratios of isotopic oxygen are also differentially affected by global weather patterns and regional topography as moisture is transported. Areas of lower humidity cause the preferential loss of 18O water in the form of vapor and precipitation. Furthermore, evaporated 16O water returns preferentially to the atmospheric system as it evaporates and 18O remains in liquid form or is incorporated into the body water of plants and animals.