The discipline of Compound Specific Isotope Analysis (CSIA) for environmental investigations has been an important step forward in contemporary environmental science. Concepts and applications are presently available for carbon and hydrogen based CSIA of the more simple organic contaminants such as BTEX, chlorinated ethenes and MTBE, and are already integrated into common monitoring strategies for polluted sites. On the contrary, applications and concepts for larger molecules comprising compound classes such as brominated flame retardants, pesticides, persistent organic chemicals (POPs) and emerging chemicals are still in its early stages. Furthermore, methods for analyzing isotopes of other elements, such as chlorine, bromide and nitrogen, lack sensitivity or precision and are not universally accessible yet. Thus, methodological developments are urgently needed to exploit the potential of isotope forensics in environmental research.

Although multi-element isotope analysis allows distinguishing among reaction mechanisms and degradation pathways, still limited knowledge exists with respect to isotope effects that can be expected for environmentally relevant biotic and abiotic reactions. Quantum modelling provides an alternative and independent avenue for the characterization of reaction mechanisms and isotope effects and may be used to predict the magnitude of isotope fractionation during degradation reactions of chemicals with similar chemical structure.

Current challenges in reactive transport modelling include (1) multiple isotopes, especially the complication of multiple isotopologues as for polyhalogenated compounds and (2) application of concepts in modelling large scale systems.

These challenges will be addressed in CSI:ENVIRONMENT. Concepts and methods will be developed to overcome current limitations to advance the field particularly with respect to isotope applications which should enable implementation of the novel approaches by industry and regulators.

Summary of workpackages and projects

Our ITN network proposes training in the research areas of compound specific isotope analysis in environmental systems within the 16 different PhD programmes for 16 early stage researchers organised into 4 training areas and 8 work packages. The 4 training areas are the following:

  • I. Methods: development of methods for the analysis of emerging contaminants, compound specific isotope composition & quality assurance (more info ...).
  • II. Processes: characterisation of factors causing isotope fractionation/fundamental understanding of isotope fractionation upon environmental processes (more info ...).
  • III. Modelling: evaluation of data and concepts; integration and reactive transport modelling.(more info ...).
  • IV. Implementation: Evaluation of the methods and procedures for quality control and their application in case studies for further implementation to develop new services for industry and consultancies.(more info ...).
Schematic interaction between work packages and partners of CSI:ENVIRONMENT

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The PhD programmes each have their focus in one of the main training areas but not without overlap and collaborations in other training areas. The research methods used will be a combination of state of the art analytical methods and equipment, chemical, microbiological, biochemical and modeling approaches.

In the following table a schematic representation of the training areas with their work packages and Ph.D. Programmes is shown. Darker colours marked with ‘M’ represent the major or core activity of training for the fellows, lighter colours marked with ‘S’ the side or supporting training areas. All fellows will obtain a basic training in all areas as indicated by the shaded blocks flagged with ‘t’ during the training courses (more info ...), that with be held in the host department of different partner institutions.

Training areas, work packages and Ph.D. programmes of CSI:ENVIRONMENT

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June 21-26, 2015 (Jerusalem, Israel) 


Portrait of Dr.Thomas Hofstetter "Compound-specific isotope analysis is a powerful way of identifying degradation pathways of organic molecules"

CSI:Environment fellows share their experience
at Horizon 2020 (European Commission)


Marie Curie actions