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Pollution in coastal ecosystems is becoming increasingly problematic, causing harm to animals, humans, and the environment. It destroys animal habitats, results in bacterial and viral pathogens that cause multiple illnesses, and can reduce economic growth along coastal regions. Nitrogen (N) containing species such as nitrates or ammonium can be highly detrimental to coastal marine ecosystems. This blog post will look at the importance of mass spectrometry quantifying nitrogen pollution in coastal ecosystems.

What is Mass Spectrometry? 

Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique used to identify the chemical composition of substances, which is conducted by measuring the mass-to-charge ratio (m/z) of present molecules. Scientists can also identify unknown substances and quantify known compounds through this technique.

The critical components of a mass spectrometer include an ioniser, mass filter, and detector, and it is a vital instrument in chemistry, physics, biochemistry  and a wide range of other scientific fields. It is commonly used in organic and bio-organic analysis and elemental identification and can also be used to quantify nitrogen pollution.

Why is Quantifying Nitrogen Pollution Necessary? 

In moderate amounts, nitrogen is an essential component of marine biomass. This biomass is essential for the food chain and affects plants, animals, and humans. However, insufficient nitrogen prevents plants from thriving, whereas too much nitrogen can be toxic resulting in poor growth. In excessive amounts, nitrogen can be devastating to all ecosystems.

Nitrogen has two stable isotopes, 14N and 15N. The concentration levels of nitrogens isotopes can be quantified to determine whether they are naturally occurring or from forms of pollution. Nitrate that occurs in wastewater results in higher concentrations of 15N concentrations compared to 15N that is present in natural processes, and these levels can be quantified with mass spectrometers. 

Using Mass Spectrometry to Quantify Nitrogen Pollution in Coastal Ecosystems 

Analysing nitrogen pollution is crucial for the health and development of coastal ecosystems, and this can be done effectively and accurately with membrane inlet mass spectrometry (MIMS). MIMS can be used to determine the concentration of Nitrogen isotopes in small sample volumes of both water and sediment slurries. It is a cost-effective, quick method used to analyse the transformation of nitrogen in coastal waters, rivers, and lakes.

Mass Spectrometry With Hiden Analytical

Hiden Analytical develops and manufactures mass spectrometers for gas analysis in research and development (R&D) and other life sciences applications. Ideal for analysing nitrogen concentrations is the Hiden HPR-40 DSA dissolved species analyser, which can be used as a benchtop system or fitted into a mobile cart to be used in the field. The pQA portable gas analyser is an alternative, versatile mass spectrometer suitable for lab and field use.

Contact us today for more information on how mass spectrometers quantify nitrogen in coastal ecosystems.


  1. Casciotti, K.L., and Signman, D. M., (2001) Nitrogen Isotopes in the Ocean. https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~peter/Resources/Seminar/readings/Sigman01EOS.pdf
  2. IAEA (2015) Isotopes to Study Nitrogen Pollution and Eutrophication of Rivers and Lakes https://www.iaea.org/projects/crp/f32007