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IsoNose Report Summary

Project ID: 608069
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Germany


The Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) »lsotopic Tools as Novel Sensors of Earth Surface Resources - lsoNose« is an alliance of eight international and four associated partners from science and industry. The project is coordinated at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences by Professor Dr. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg.

The SCIENTIFIC OBJECTIVE of IsoNose is to illuminate the processes generating or destroying the major Earth surface resources, using novel isotopic sensors. We will focus on three major Earth surface resources: soil, water and metal resources.
In the last 15 years advances in multicollector mass-spectrometry have opened opportunities to identify “isotopic fingerprints” of virtually all metals and to make use of the complete information contained in these fingerprints. While the feasibility of these new tools has been demonstrated by now, the derivation of robust geologic and environmental information from their application requires substantial additional efforts. The novel stable isotope techniques will disclose the processes generating (e.g. weathering, mineral ore formation) and destroying (e.g. erosion, pollution) these resources.

The TRAINING OBJECTIVE of IsoNose is to prepare the researchers for excellent careers in academic and/or in the private sector in Europe and improve their mobility. The ITN IsoNose promises twelve Early Stage Researchers (ESR) and two Experienced Researchers (ER) the opportunity to perform competitive research on innovative stable isotope methods in the environment. Our Fellows benefit from an extensive training program, equipping them with skills in research, communicating science, and management techniques. Our Fellows have the unique opportunity to experience working (i) for a variety of institutions (both in academia and industry), (ii) in different research environments and countries as well as (iii) different supervisors, (iv) cutting-edge technologies and innovative scientific questions.

The ITN IsoNose started as planned on the 1st March 2014. Up to date information about the research, training and outreach activities can be found on the constantly updated project website at

The research projects in IsoNose are organized in five work packages (WP). In WP1 “Making soil from rock” laboratory experiments for isotopic exchange or adsorption behaviour of different metals were designed, set up and run at the moment. To decipher the impact of abiotic and biotic processes associated with weathering, laboratory batch experiments were designed and the microbial impact on weathering is studied with the help of a model laboratory biofilm.

In WP2 “Dissolved metals in the global water cycle”, WP3 “Human Influence on Metal Cycling” and WP4 “Innovations in metal ore exploration” field sites for sampling were identified, field campaigns organized and sampling of water, plant, soil, peat bogs and rock samples took place at locations in Ireland, France, Spain, Brazil and India. Additionally, previous collected samples from Brazil, Greenland, India and Turkey were integrated into the respective research project. The analyses of the samples for major and trace elements as well as isotopes are in progress. First data sets were evaluated, sampling strategies refined and results presented at national and international conferences.

In WP 5 “New analytical tools” two techniques, using laser ablation and multicollector mass-spectrometry were developed to obtain simultaneously isotope ratios and element information from a single ablation spot. Furthermore a procedure to perform signal deconvolution (splitting a laser ablation signal into its constituent shots) and the correction for different amplifier response rates are in progress.

Furthermore the ITN IsoNose organized a science workshop, a welcome reception at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry conference, three scientific trainings, four complementary skill trainings and three webinars. Training documents were supplied and evaluation of the workshops was performed. Outreach activities are in progress.

The IsoNose Fellows considerably broadened their scientific skills and knowledge. 23 scientific abstracts were submitted and the result presented at national and international conferences or workshops. Fellow’s oral presentations and writing skills improved significantly. Two workshops for schoolchildren were held and exhibits and posters for an exhibition open to the general public were designed.

In WP1 the different laboratory experiments achieved the following results (i) an ion-exchange method for Ni separation is being established (ii) the determination of equilibrium fractionation factors between the main inorganic and organic Mg and Si species advanced (iii) the tested biofilm can be used for the experiments and the presence of the fungus Knufia Petricola enhances the release rate of both Mg and Si from the dissolving mineral. Results from WP2 show (i) different concentration-discharge relationships in the respective catchments, (ii) that Si fractionation is a function of sediment grain size in Amazon rivers and (iii) water samples for Greenland show a conservative behaviour with the salinity whereas lithium isotopic compositions remain constant during the seasons, (iv) that samples from peat cores show asynchronous enrichments in different metals, suggesting different pollution sources, (v) that the chemical breakdown of clinopyroxene causes the natural depletion of Zn in an Indian soil profile (vi) metal anomalies in plant samples, that might result from soil via uptake by roots and (or) by atmospheric deposition of metal particulate, (vii) that the observed trace element signatures are an indicator for lithology-dependent element mobility within the cover rock above a sulphide body.

At the end of the ITN IsoNose we expect to (i) have established the isotope fingerprints of natural processes such as mineral dissolution, clay formation, and uptake by plants for an array of novel isotope systems, (ii) have a “novel isotope toolbox” for using stable isotopes on water transport through catchments and (iii) for detecting and exploring metal ores, (iv) know the potential for using novel stable isotopes as environmental tracers and last but not least (v) have developed new, robust routine applications in laser ablation techniques.

The expected socio-economic impact of the ITN IsoNose will be far-reaching and diverse. Our Fellows benefit from an extensive training program, partly delivered by our industrial partners that will equip them with additional skills in research and design, communicating science, and management techniques. On one hand the integrated structure of our training programme and the expertise of its diverse partners will ensure that our Fellows have the widest possible career opportunities open to them on the European job market. On the other hand European research institutions, research based industries, engineering consultancy firms or government agencies will have access to 14 highly trained young researchers who have developed the specific skills, required in the respective working field. From the application point of view of stable metal isotopes the ITN IsoNose aims to make novel stable isotope techniques fit for major industrial and societal applications to ensure the sustainable exploitation of water, soil, and metal resources.

Reported by

Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum


Life Sciences
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