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Registration Open: IAEA Offers Laboratories to Test their Capacity for the Isotopic Analysis of Water

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Stable isotopes of water samples being analyzed by laser spectrometry. (Photo: IAEA)

Analysing the source of water is the first step in the development of effective strategies to ensure its availability in the long run and protect water quality. Since the 1990s, the IAEA has offered laboratories worldwide the possibility to assess their water analysis skills using isotopic techniques every four years. Registration for the new Water Isotope Interlaboratory Comparison (WICO 2020) is now open and will close on 28 February 2020.

WICO tests laboratories’ ability to conduct measurements of certain isotopes in water samples, which help scientists to determine the age and origin of water. With this type of information, national authorities can better plan long-term water management.

For the laboratories, participation is cost free.

 “Over 200 laboratories from more than 65 countries have already registered for WICO 2020, since the opening of the registration. This demonstrates a keen interest of laboratories worldwide in our proficiency testing initiative,” said Leonard Wassenaar, Head of the IAEA’s Isotope Hydrology Laboratory in Vienna.

The modus operandi of WICO is simple. The IAEA Isotope Hydrology Laboratory prepares and verifies water samples in Vienna before shipping them to participating laboratories. The labs analyse the samples and send the results back to the IAEA. These are then compared to IAEA reference values. Finally, each laboratory receives a detailed report on the accuracy of their analysis, along with suggestions and recommendations from the IAEA. The results of the labs are compiled in a general anonymous report, which is shared with all participants as well as with the broader isotope hydrology community.

In Brazil, the Geoscience Institute of the University of Sao Paulo benefited from interlaboratory comparisons, said Veridiana Martins, Assistant Professor at the Geoscience Institute. “In 2012, we bought a laser spectrometer for isotope analysis in the framework of a project aiming to understand the salinization process occurring in coastal aquifers in northeast Brazil,” she said. “We had about 150 samples to run and we were trying to compare the results obtained to validate the new machine. Curiously, our results were always above the norm. Thanks to an interlaboratory comparison analysis, we rapidly got the confirmation that we had a problem with our in-house standards. We realized then the importance of inter-comparison testing, as it was the only possibility for us to identify our problem. WICO offers an opportunity to monitor our laboratory quality periodically.”

Register here for WICO 2020.

For more information on the work of the IAEA in isotopic analysis of water, see the April 2019 edition of the IAEA Bulletin on Water.

WICO proficiency testing samples for shipment to Member States. (Photo: IAEA)

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