Articles | Volume 2, issue 2
Regular research article
13 Nov 2013
Regular research article |  | 13 Nov 2013

Validation and application of a cryogenic vacuum extraction system for soil and plant water extraction for isotope analysis

N. Orlowski, H.-G. Frede, N. Brüggemann, and L. Breuer

Abstract. Stable isotopic analysis of water in plant, soil, and hydrological studies often requires the extraction of water from plant or soil samples. Cryogenic vacuum extraction is one of the most widely used and accurate extraction methods to obtain such water samples. Here, we present a new design of a cryogenic vacuum extraction system with 18 extraction slots and an innovative mechanism to aerate the vacuum system after extraction. This mobile and extendable multi-port extraction system overcomes the bottleneck of time required for capturing unfractionated extracted water samples by providing the possibility to extract a larger number of samples per day simultaneously. The aeration system prevents the loss or mixture of water vapor during defrosting by purging every sample with high-purity nitrogen gas. A set of system functionality tests revealed that the extraction device guarantees stable extraction conditions with no changes in the isotopic composition of the extracted water samples. Surprisingly, extractions of dried and rehydrated soils showed significant differences of the isotopic composition of the added water and the extracts. This observation challenges the assumption that cryogenic extraction systems to fully extract soil water. Furthermore, in a plant water uptake study different results for hydrogen and oxygen isotope data were obtained, raising problems in the definition from which depths plants really take up water. Results query whether the well-established and widely used cryogenic vacuum distillation method can be used in a standard unified method of fixed extraction times as it is often done.