Earth and Environment


Further information

Laboratory contact

Mr Michael Smirk

UWA's Earth and Environment Analysis Laboratory (EEAL) is a comprehensive analytical facility that incorporates a range of instrumentation to provide accurate and precise analysis in a number of environmental areas.

The facility hosts a wide range of high quality instruments such as two multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers, two (dissolved organic) carbon and nitrogen analysers, a thermal gravimetric analyser, a particle size distribution analyser and various other instruments.

Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometer (ICP-OES)

Perkin Elmer 5300DV

  • Useful for multi-elemental analysis of aqueous samples, digest solutions or extracts at mg/L and ug/L levels.
  • Aqueous solutions are aspirated into an argon plasma (~10 000K) where elemental components are atomised and ionised of which the resulting spectra observed is analysed.
  • Emission intensities of characteristic wavelengths of elements of interest are measured and compared against measurements from known concentrations in calibration solutions to determine sample concentrations.
  • The plasma may be viewed radially or axially for enhanced detection limits.

Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS)

Perkin Elmer Elan 6000

  • ICP-MS is a highly sensitive technique for multi-elemental analysis of aqueous samples, digest solutions or extracts at ug/L and ng/L levels.
  • Aqueous solutions are aspirated into an argon plasma (~10 000K) where elements present in solutions are ionised; and then introduced into a quadrupole mass spectrometer where elements are sorted by mass and counted.
  • Comparison of weight/count with calibration solutions allows elemental quantification: e.g. the ability to quantify elements from Li (mass 7) to U (mass 238).
  • ICP-MS can be used in conjunction with HPLC for speciation analysis.

Carbon and Nitrogen Analysis (CN)

Elementar Vario Macro

  • The Elementar specialises in total Carbon and Nitrogen; or Nitrogen only analysis using Dumas combustion.
    Samples preparation is critical: all samples must be dried and finely ground (soil or plant material).
    Samples weight is considerably small, technicians must be consulted on this, for example:
    • Plant samples can vary between 5 - 100 mg
    • Soil samples can vary between 50 - 400 mg.
  • Samples may be submitted for analysis to our technical team or staff and students can be trained to use the equipment and undertake the analysis themselves.

Dissolved Organic Carbon Analysis (DOC)

Shimadzu TOC 5000

  • Determines dissolved total organic carbon in solutions and aqueous extracts by catalytic combustion and infra-red analysis of evolved CO2.
  • The Shimadzu can also be used to determine Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DL 0.1mg/L) in solution; and Microbial Biomass Carbon in soils from extract.
  • Carbon is reported as in mg/L.

Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectrometer (GF-AAS)

Varian SpectrAA220

  • GF-AAS is a highly sensitive technique for single element analysis of solutions at ug/L and ng/L levels.
  • Small volumes of sample(µL) are introduced into a graphite tube where they undergo a heating program to remove interfering species.
  • The final step involves atomisation and measurement of absorbance at a characteristic wavelength for the element being analysed.
  • Calibration solutions are taken through the same process to enable sample quantification.
  • Current application at EEAL is gold in soil and soil solutions.

X-Ray Fluorescent Spectrometer (XRF)

  • Soil/sediment samples are illuminated with short-wavelength X-rays: from which an output of the XRF spectrum of available elements is output.
    Elements of interest are identified by characteristic fluorescent radiation and their intensity is measured.Matrix corrections and linear calibrations are applied to quantify the elements of interest.
  • Samples preparation is crucial. All samples must be finely ground: prior to making of glass beads or pressed powders for analysis.
  • Preparation facilities are available at EEAL and include all necessary equipment including furnaces and platinum-ware to prepare glass disk samples.

X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD)

XRD Philips PW 1830

  • Used mainly for identification of crystalline mineral phases, although clay minerals can also be characterised by utilising a pre-analysis treatments (Technicians to be consulted).
  • Short-wavelength x-rays diffract off of the regular 3D structures of atoms in crystals; providing signature diffraction patterns.
  • These diffraction patterns can be interpreted by using ICDD (International Centre of Diffraction Data) database of characteristic mineral patterns (PDF4 Mineral database).
  • Expert technicians are available to assist in identifying minerals found in samples.

Thermogravimetric Analysis

Perkin Elmer STA 6000 DTA

  • Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA) measures weight loss and heat flow versus temperature (to a max of 1000°C) under air or nitrogen: this is useful for verification of presence of particular mineral phases.
  • TGA allows for determination of enthalpies of de-hydroxylation and de-carboxylation reactions of minerals.
  • TGA will analyse heat flows associated with mineral phase changes.

Multi-channel Flow Injection Analysis

Lachat QuikChem 8500 Series 2

  • EEAL's Multi-channel Flow Injection Analysis (FIA) in an auto-sampling instrument, which uses a low pulse peristaltic pump and automated dilutor setup.
  • Each channel utilises a long sample loop to increase sensitivity and increase the accuracy of EEAL data output. NOTE: A long sample loop is essential when dealing with seawater; as refractive index differences between the reagents and a seawater sample can give misleading peak information.
  • This EEAL instrument sequentially runs dissolved ammonia, nitrates (NOx) and orthophosphate.

Microplate reader


  • The FLUOstar Optima can measure absorbance, fluorescence or luminescence; in conjunction with particular Standard Laboratory Procedures (dependent on element of interest) to determine specific micronutrient concentration.
  • Sample volume required for analysis is small (eg. max 300µL); therefore adding replicates is effortless.
  • Each set of samples is run on the same microplate with calibration and quality control data points.
  • Sulfate and in ferrous iron may also be analysed on this instrument.

Mastersizer: Laser Diffraction

Malvern Mastersizer 2000 with hydro 2000g

Particle size distribution analysis is performed on samples using a Malvern Mastersizer 2000, which uses laser diffraction to determine particle size. Sample suspensions are moved through a flow cell with the laser passing through it. The laser diffraction is measured using several detectors to determine individual particle size. Using red and blue lasers together, the Mastersizer is able to measure particle sizes from 0.02-2000µm.