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School of Geography

Equipment & facilities


Atomic absorption spectrophotometer (AAS)

The Hitachi Z-5300 is an atomic absorption spectrometer with polarised Zeeman background correction. It is inexpensive to run and requires a minimum of setting up. This analyser provides single element determination with good precision and accuracy. Typical determinations are calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium in water samples and soil extractions.

Continuous flow auto-analyser

Two Skalar San++ colorimetric auto-analyser allow the determination of nitrite, total oxidised nitrogen, ammonia and phosphate to sub-ppm levels in natural waters and a range of extracts, along with other determinands (such as silica and aluminium) if required.

Elemental thermal oxidation analysis

The Analytik Jena Multi N/C 2100 and 2100C combustion analysers are suitable for the determination of carbon (total, total inorganic and non-purgeable organic carbon) in aqueous samples to ppm levels.

The Elementar vario MICRO cube is suitable for the routine determination of carbon and nitrogen in solid samples such as soil and plant material; it is also possible to determine hydrogen and sulphur. Analytical range is typically from 100 ppm to percent levels.

Gas Chromatograph - Greenhouse Gas Analyser

This instrument is an Agilent 7890A, equipped for injection of gas samples from a wide range of sample containers, but routinely from 12 ml pre-evacuated vials. The instrument has a methaniser/flame ionisation detector, and electron capture detector, and is set up to quantify carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Gas Chromatograph - Mass Spectrometer

This instrument is an Agilent 7890 GC with a flame ionisation detector and a single quadrupole mass spectrometer detector (MSD). The MSD has options for electron ionisation and both positive and negative chemical ionisation. The injector is appropriate for liquid samples. With appropriate column installation and sample preparation this instrument is suitable for identifying and quantifying a wide range of organic analytes, including n-alkanes and other lipids, amino acids, carbohydrates, lignin, phenols, and pesticides.


Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of large molecules into smaller ones. Coupled to GC-MS, this allows analysis of the constituent parts of large molecules that could not be analysed by GC-MS if they were intact. Little sample preparation is required for pyrolysis-gc-ms, as the sample is typically introduced as a solid. Modern pyrolysis systems also allow temperature ramping. This allows samples to be heated to e.g. 200°C to remove volatile compounds, then e.g. 400°C to remove semi-volatiles, before actual pyrolysis of the remaining non-volatile compounds takes place at 600°C+. This means that sample preparation required for analysis of either the volatile or the non-volatile component of complex starting materials is minimal and that both can be analysed from a single sample. 

Ion chromatograph (IC)

The Dionex ICS-3000 chromatograph is currently set up for measuring a range of anions (normally at ppm levels) in natural waters and aqueous soil extracts. The microbore system is fitted with a 100 position temperature-controlled autosampler, eluent generator, quaternary pump, temperature-controlled column compartment and conductivity and UV detectors. Typical determinations are chloride, nitrate and sulphate in water. The system is capable of being set up for other determinands including low molecular weight organic acids.

Inductively coupled plasma - Optical emission spectrophotometer (ICP-OES)

The Thermo Scientific iCAP7600 ICP-OES, equipped with a 240-position Cetac auto-sampler, is a simultaneous analyser with the capability to view in axial or radial mode. It provides fairly rapid multi-elemental analysis of a range of materials from low ppb to percent levels. It is typically used to measure alkali metals and transition metals in water samples and soil extracts.

UV/Vis spectrophotometer

The School has two Jasco V-630 double beam spectrophotometers with the ability to measure at wavelengths between 190 and 1100 nm. Standard applications include: scanning fixed wavelength, time course, quantitation, validation and kinetics. The instruments are excellent for basic applications such as teaching and simple quality assurance, and can be used with a range of ambient and temperature-controlled cell holders as well as the micro cell holders and automation accessories. In Geography the spectrophotometers are used predominantly to assess water colour as a proxy for dissolved organic carbon.

If you cannot find the equipment you require in the School of Geography or School of Earth and Environment try searching the N8 Shared Research Inventory and the UK HE Research Equipment databases.

Experimental flume tanks

Coriolis effect

This ‘weather in a tank’ equipment is set up to demonstrate Coriolis effects on wind-driven ocean currents. Using paper dots and trace markers surface and currents at depth can be visualised, clearly demonstrating Ekman pumping or suction, depending on the set up of the rotating fans.  This aids our students’ understanding about the dynamics of a fluid on a rotating sphere and how that dynamics helps to shape the climate of the Earth. The kit could be easily adapted to incorporate differential heating with the placement of ice in a metal cylinder in the middle of the tank.

Coriolis effect tank
Coriolis effect tank

Miniature flume 

Miniature flume tanks that can be used for simulating overland flow, channel flow, and subsurface flow (the latter in porous media such as sands). The tanks can also be used for hardware modelling experiments to simulate delta formation in shallow seas or lakes.

Miniature flume tank
Miniature flume tank

General equipment


The Astell front loading benchtop autoclave, with programmable controller, can be used for the extraction of total nitrogen and total phosphorus in water samples. The LTE 160H-R, large capacity 120 L floor standing autoclave is used for the destruction of material in accordance with the DEFRA Plant Health Licence to Import, Move and Keep Prohibited Soil for Chemical and Physical Analysis.


The School has a range of top pan balances with the capability of measuring up to 5 kg and analytical balances for measuring up to 220 g for teaching and research.

Mixer Mills

The MM 301 and MM 400 mixer mills are capable of the fine grinding of small amounts of sample to a final fineness of less than 5 µm. They also assist in the mixing and homogenisation of powders and suspensions.

Biological safety cabinet (Class II)

This containment facility protects the operator from the exposure to fine dust when preparing soil and plant material for chemical and physical analysis, ensuring compliance with DEFRA guidelines for the Plant Health Licence to Import, Move and Keep Prohibited Soil for Chemical and Physical Analysis.


The School has two large 3 L capacity centrifuge capable of speeds up to 4600 rpm. Adaptors are available to accommodate 15 mL and 50 mL centrifuge tubes. The operator can preset individual programs, including acceleration/deceleration curves.

Cutting mill

The Retsch SM 100 is a powerful cutting mill that is particularly suitable for size reduction of soft, medium-hard, elastic or fibrous materials.

Deionised water units

The laboratories are equipped with four Sartorius arium® deionised water units, each providing Type I and Type II water. The deionised water units on level 9 are fitted with UV lamps and Total Organic Carbon sensors (TOC) to provide the best quality water for carbon determinations. Each system is fitted with an under bench bag tank for the storage of large quantities of purified water.


The School has a Miele G7883 large capacity dishwasher with various attachments. Separate programs include variable operating temperatures for glass, plastics and mixed loads. A final rinse cycle is carried out with Type II deionised water.

Fume cupboards

The laboratories have been fitted with ten general purpose fume cupboards across the two laboratory floors and a specialised fume cupboard for work with perchloric and hydrofluoric acid.


Muffle furnaces for ashing samples, performing fusions and decontaminating glassware and filter papers. Each of the furnaces is sited under extraction systems to remove harmful vapor. The furnaces can be booked up to three days in advance using the diary in front of each furnace.

Thermal equipment

The School has range of heating devices including water baths, sand baths, hotplates, rotary evaporators and digestion systems.


The School has two 600 L floor standing incubators capable of being set to between -10 °C and + 50 °C fitted with adjustable shelves. Bookings for the floor-standing incubators are made using the School of Geography’s booking system on the Intranet. There is also a small bench top incubator capable of being set in a temperature range of +5 °C and + 50 °C (the set point temperature must exceed the ambient temperature).

Kjeldahl nitrogen digestion and distillation

The School has a Gerhardt Turbotherm12-position macro digestion system and a Vapodest distillation unit, used mainly by undergraduates for the preparation of samples for Kjeldahl nitrogen determination.


Several large-capacity free standing and bench top ovens are available for drying samples at temperaturesbetween 40 and 220 °C, and a steriliser oven for applications requiring temperatures up to 300 °C. The water laboratory is also equipped with a drying/warming cabinet suitable for glassware and instrumentation..

pH meters

There are several bench top and hand-held pH meters fitted with general purpose electrodes suitable for use with soil and water (specialist pH electrodes are available if required). For field portable meters, please contact the Field Store.


There are two modern Gerhardt Laboshake reciprocal shakers fitted with a selection of attachments and support bars, along with a Gallenkamp orbital shaker. Although the Gallenkamp shaker is old, it has recently been refurbished and can be adapted to accommodate various differently-sized containers with the help of the workshop.

Sonic probe

The ASL sonicating auto-sampler was acquired by the School for reducing the size of suspended sediment particles to allow carbon determination in aqueous suspension by combustion analysis. More recently, it has been used to facilitate solvent extraction of biomarkers in peat samples.


The Hach DR2010 and Odyssey portable bench top spectrophotometers are capable of measuring at wavelengths between 400 and 900 nm.


The Hach 2100A turbidimeter is a laboratory nephelometer calibrated for measuring turbidity in colorless liquids. It is suitable for a broad range of turbidity measurements with ranges of 0-0.2, 0-1.0, 0-10, 0-100 and 0-1000 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU).

Equipment for measuring soil physical properties

Particle size equipment: gravimetric method, hydrometer method

The Soil Laboratory is equipped with apparatus to determine particle size classification by gravimetric pipette method and bouyoucos hydrometer. These methods are based on the Stokes’ Law (settling velocities).


An Eijkelkamp 25-place closed system laboratory permeameter has recently been acquired, enabling the measurement of the saturated permeability of undisturbed soil samples in sample rings (both 53 and 60mm diameter). The closed system ensures a consistent temperature and water quality and also allows different matrix solutions to be used.

Laser diffraction particle size analysis

The Beckman-Coulter LS230 laser diffraction particle size analyser is an instrument for characterising the particle size distribution of a sample. The analyser can routinely determine the grain size of particles between 0.4 mm and 2 mm in diameter in aqueous suspension, and has an additional detector system (PIDS) to measure particles from 0.04 mm to 0.4 mm in diameter.

Sieve set and sieve shaker

There is a collection of stainless steel and brass 10 cm and 20 cm diameter sieves with mesh sizes ranging from 63 µm to 31.5 mm, along with a sieve shaker with attachments for wet and dry sieving.

Tree ring equipment

Tree ring measurement station and TSAP-win software

The Lintab6 tree ring measurement station is a robust and precise measurement table for accurate measurement of tree-ring width from increment cores, stem disks and other wooden samples. Equipped with a high quality stereo microscope it has a measurement precision of 1/100 mm. The measurement table connects to TSAP-Win software, and is very easy to use. It has built in features to allow on-screen editing of ring width data, cross-dating of ring width series, chronology building and detrending of ring width curves, and exchange of ring width series to other formats.

(Further information on the Lintab and TSAP win can be found here:,english/)

Core microtome

The core microtome allows for the preparation of high quality tree core surfaces. It is especially useful for species with difficult wood anatomy and results in high quality core surface with open wood cells and vessels. Further information on the core microtome developed by WSL can be found here:

Bruno Barçante Ladvocat Cintra preparing samples for dendrochronological analysis using the core microtome.

Batch extraction for wood cellulose

Most environmental studies on stable isotope ratios in tree rings use cellulose. As the manual chemical extraction can be very labour intensive, batch extraction methods are preferred for the handling of large numbers of samples. In our laboratory we use the batch-wise extraction method of the Potsdam Dendro, allowing for the simultaneous extraction of large numbers of samples. The set-up features various drainage modules (made from Teflon) in which funnels with sintered glass discs are fitted. Extraction with vacuum pump allows for simultaneous extraction of chemicals from all funnels. For further information on this system see:


Located on level 8 of the Garstang Building, looking out onto the corner of Chancellor’s Court, the microscope lab is equipped with a range of high powered and low powered microscopes for use in teaching and research. The lab has been fitted with benches of different heights to accommodate the user’s preferences and a large sink with flexible drench hose for washing samples. Microscopes in use for teaching: Leica CME, Olympus CH and Brunel BMZ, Brunel SP-150. Microscopes used for research: Leica S6D, DMLS, DM2000 and S6E.

The high power microscopes are used for plant macrofossil, mollusc, charcoal tephra and testate amoeba identification and counting, whilst the low powered stereomicroscopes are used for the identification of invertebrates and plant macrofossils.

Elizabeth Watson, Chartell Bateman and Dr Ivan Savov (l-r) in Sweden using a Russian corer to collect sediment core samples for extraction and tephra analysis.

Shard of tephra (volcanic ash) which was deposited onto a peatland in northern Ireland following the eruption of the Hekla volcano, Iceland in AD 1510. Image from a scanning electron microscope.


Analytical Laboratory

The level 9 Analytical Laboratory provides a facility for testing water samples, soil extracts/digests and plant extracts/digests. Instruments include: Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectrophotometer, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer for general elemental analysis; a combustion analyser for the determination of carbon and nitrogen in solid samples; two combustion analysers for the determination of carbon in liquids; acontinuous flow auto-analysers for the determination nitrate, nitrite, ammonia and phosphorus and an Ion Chromatograph for the routine determination of anions.

Balance room

This is a dedicated balance room with specialist balance benches, currently equipped with a 5-figure semi-microbalance and two 6-figure micro-balances.

Cold rooms

Dedicated cold rooms are available for storing samples at 4 °C. Each of these large (8.8 x 2.4 x 2.4 m wdh) cold rooms is fitted with adjustable shelving and a small amount of bench space. The level 8 cold room is dedicated soil samples and soil/sediment cores whilst the level 9 cold room is dedicated to water samples. The level 9 cold room is also fitted with a large sink and flexible drench hose for washing.

Environmental Room

The generously sized (6.2 x 2.4 x 2.4 m wdh) walk-in environmental room is fitted with fully programmable control between 0 °C and + 30 °C and 10 and 95 % relative humidity, including a height adjustable table, 2 x IP rated double power sockets and a rig to suspend specialist lighting. The Environmental Room can be booked using the School of Geography’s booking system on the intranet.

Flammable store/Chemical waste store

The large walk-in store is located to the rear of the Garstang Building and is capable of storing large quantities of solvents and chemical waste prior to safe disposal.


The large (4.5 x 4.5 x 2.4 m wdh walk-in) freezer -20 °C is fitted with adjustable shelving, bench space and 2 x IP-rated double sockets.

Gas store

Located to the rear of the Garstang Building the gas store is fitted with manifold systems to supply the the instrumentation and preparation equipment.

Plant Growth Chamber (Environmental cabinet)

A Filotron Plant Growth Chamber provides controlled growing conditions of temperature and relative humidity in a 24 hour period with independent selection of photoperiods. A full range of temperature, humidity and light levels including “dusk/dawn” effects can be simulated. Bookings for this equipment are made using the School of Geography’s booking system on the intranet.

R&D laboratory

This laboratory has been designed to support undergraduate and Masters level student education. It is also used for dissertation projects, open day sessions and laboratory classes for up to 20 students. A wide range of modern equipment is available to facilitate the preparation of samples for numerous determinations: ovens, balances, shaking tables, incubators, plant growth chamber, furnaces etc. Glass partition walls between the R&D Laboratory and the adjacent Technical Team Office allow the laboratory technicians to effectively support and oversee student projects, ensuring that H&S guidelines and Good Laboratory Practice is followed.

To book the laboratory please contact the Laboratory Manager.

Soil laboratory

This lab is equipped with preparation equipment to process soil samples from the field for chemical and physical determinations.

Soil preparation laboratory

Located on level 8 in the Garstang Building, within the Soil Laboratory, the Soil Preparation Laboratory provides a dedicated space to safely grind and sieve samples in preparation for analysis. Following DEFRA guidelines, overhead extraction units are available to remove dust particles from samples collected from within the European Union (EU) countries and a microbiological safety cabinet is available for the preparation of soil samples from non-EU countries. A large drying rack is available for air drying samples.

Soil store

Secure storage is available for the storage of non-EU material as part of the terms and conditions for Faculty’s the DEFRA Licence to Import, Move and Keep Prohibited Soil for Chemical and Physical Analysis. The soil store in located in the Level 5 Roger Stevens hanger.

Tree ring Laboratory

The tree ring laboratory is equipped with two Leica stereomicroscopes, a lintab6 tree ring measurement station, a core microtome, several sanding machines and an Epson 6000XL scanner for creating high-resolution tree ring images. A range of manual increment borers is available, and there is equipment for simultaneous extraction of cellulose from a large number of samples of wood material.

Simultaneous batch extractions of wood cellulose for 274 samples. During this stage tannins and resins are released by washing with sodium hydroxide.

Isobel Jasper using the Lintab6 tree ring measurement station to analyse tree-ring widths, from species at various altitudes within the Matukituki Valley, New Zealand as part of the New Zealand field trip.

Water Laboratory

The Water Laboratory is located on level 9 in the Garstang Building, this is where the majority of preparations are carried out for analysis using the instrumentation in the Analytical Laboratory. Equipment provided in this laboratory is used for the analysis of Suspended Solids, Particulate Organic Carbon and UV/Vis spectrophotometers for the determination of water colour.

Washing areas

In two of the labs (8.06 Soil Laboratory and 9.10 Water Laboratory - one on each floor), there are large sinks for washing and draining large pieces of equipment. Each sink measures 800 x 850 mm and is equipped with a flexible drench hose.