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EnvironMetal Isotopes 2013

EnvironMetal Isotopes 2013
Ascona, Switzerland | August 18-23, 2013
Submitted by Jan Wiederhold, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

The conference center on the Monte Verità ("mountain of truth") beautifully situated above Ascona, Switzerland, was the perfect location for the first EnvironMetal Isotopes(EMI) conference (August 18th-23rd, 2013). 72 scientists from 19 countries presented their most recent findings on stable metal isotope fractionation in environmental geochemistry. Many different isotope systems were covered (Ag, B, Ba, C, Ca, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Ge, Hg, Li, Mg, Mo, Ni, O, Pb, Pt, S, Sb, Se, Si, Sr, U, Zn) and the participants consisting of PhD students, postdocs, and more senior scientists with diverse backgrounds were quickly engaged in lively discussions about their research. The format of the conference without parallel sessions offered the possibility to closely interact and to learn from the – often complementary - work presented on other isotope systems. The topic of the conference program was "Stable Metal Isotope Fractionation – Processes and Applications in Environmental Geochemistry". Most presentations focused either on the tracing of pollutant elements in the environment or on the use of novel isotope systems in weathering and critical zone research. Experimental and theoretical studies on metal isotope fractionation provided an important addition to the more field-oriented presentations. The conference was opened on Sunday evening by Thomas D. Bullen (USGS, Menlo Park, USA) with a capturing overview on the rapid development of the research field over the last decade (The rise of the "non-CHONS" and the evolution of metal and metalloid stable isotope biogeochemistry beyond "non-traditional"). He urged the participants to discontinue using the word "non-traditional" in the context of their isotope work and highlighted the importance of multi-tracer approaches in complex natural systems. The presentations on Monday focused mainly on the use of metal stable isotope ratios for pollution tracing, culminating in the evening keynote lecture by Joel Blum (University of Michigan, USA) in which he presented various impressive applications of mercury isotope ratios for tracing the environmental cycle of this truly global pollutant element - from tissues of deep-sea fish to the hair and urine of dentists (The indelible imprint of photochemical mass independent isotope fractionation on mercury in the environment). The poster sessions on Monday and Tuesday afternoon provided another opportunity for discussions on the newest developments of metal isotope research in environmental geochemistry and especially for the fruitful exchange between younger and more senior researchers and between scientists with different academic backgrounds. The third keynote lecture of the conference was presented on Wednesday morning by Edwin Schauble (UCLA, USA) on computational methods to predict equilibrium isotope effects for heavy elements (Nuclear size- and shape-dependent isotope fractionation of heavy elements). Facing the challenge of presenting his rather "heavy" theoretical topic in an early morning session, he managed to capture the attention of the audience with his great talent to clearly explain the complex interactions of electron orbitals and nuclear properties of different isotopes, illuminating also the many non-physicists in the room. To attune the participants to the excursion in the afternoon, Friedhelm von Blanckenburg (GFZ Potsdam, Germany) gave a concise yet entertaining introduction into the local geology and previous isotope geochemistry studies which had been carried out in the region. The excursion took place in the beautiful valley of the Verzasca river, just a few kilometers away from the conference center. Most participants mastered the short hike through the valley quite quickly, which gave them some leisure time to spend sitting on the rocks in the river bed near Lavertezzo - some even daring to swim in the cold water of the Verzasca. The outing was rounded off by the conference dinner in the garden of a traditional Ticino restaurant with delicious local food and wine, allowing the participants to socialize in the relaxed atmosphere of a warm summer evening. Thursday and Friday brought another series of interesting scientific presentations now dealing mainly with the application of metal isotopes in weathering and critical zone research, ranging from river and marine systems to element cycles in soils and plants. On Thursday afternoon, the participants split into four working groups to discuss open questions, data quality issues, and hot topics in the field (topics: "Data reporting", "Data validation", "Standard Materials", and "Connection of field and model studies"). The results of the working groups were then presented during the plenary discussion in the evening, resulting in a lively debate and plans for future work (e.g., interlaboratory exchange and comparison of standard material data, organization of future workshops to bring together field scientists and modelers, etc.). The Centro Stefano Franscini not only provided the beautiful setting on the Monte Verità and excellent conference facilities for the event, but also traditionally sponsors a CSF award for young scientists. The organizers and scientific advisory board members were impressed by the overall high quality of the presentations given by young scientists at the conference. 30 participants were eligible, and the two prizes went to Jennifer Druhan (Stanford University, USA) for her oral presentation (Calcium isotope fractionation in groundwater: A coupled modeling approach to quantify d44Ca enrichment during calcite precipitation) and Charlotte Ockert (Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany) for her poster presentation (Ca-isotope fractionation during sediment-fluid interaction). The EMI2013 conference ended on Friday with a final lunch in the restaurant of the Monte Verità conference center, after which many of the participants journeyed south to attend the large Goldschmidt conference in Florence. The full program and abstract volume of the EnvironMetal Isotopes conference can be downloaded from the conference website (http://www.emi2013.ethz.ch). The financial support of EMI2013 by theMeeting Assistance Programof the Geochemical Society and the sponsoring of 10 PhD student grants by the European Association of Geochemistry are gratefully acknowledged. Considering the active scientific exchange and newly planned collaborations between participants as well as the enthusiasm expressed during and after the event, it would be surprising if this conference would not continue to exist in the future as a meeting point for scientists interested in the application of stable metal isotope fractionation as a tool in environmental geochemistry.