What is oxygen-18 called?

Oxygen-18 is an isotope of oxygen, denoted as 18O. This heavier and less common form of oxygen contains nine protons and nine neutrons in its nucleus, unlike the more prevalent oxygen-16 isotope, which has only eight neutrons. Due to its unique composition, oxygen-18 plays a crucial role in various scientific fields, including geology, climate studies, and medical research.

Scientists often refer to oxygen-18 as “oxygen eighteen” or simply “18O” in research literature and academic discussions. This stable isotope is particularly valuable for tracing the movement of water molecules in the environment, as well as studying biochemical processes and metabolic reactions within living organisms. Understanding the distribution and behavior of oxygen-18 provides valuable insights into Earth’s natural processes and biological systems.

The Basics of Oxygen-18

Oxygen-18 is an isotope of the element oxygen. Isotopes are different versions of the same element, but with varying numbers of neutrons in their atomic nuclei. In the case of oxygen-18, it contains 10 neutrons, while the more common oxygen isotope, oxygen-16, has 8 neutrons.

Isotopes play a significant role in various scientific fields and have unique characteristics that make them useful for specific applications. Oxygen-18, in particular, has been extensively studied and can provide valuable insights into a variety of natural processes.

The Naming of Oxygen-18

The naming convention for isotopes usually involves the element’s name followed by the mass number, which is the sum of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. However, oxygen-18 is primarily referred to by its symbol, ^18O, instead of a specific name.

The use of symbols for isotopes helps simplify scientific communication and distinguishes one isotope from another without the need for lengthy names. It is essential for scientists in various fields to understand and recognize these symbols when referring to specific isotopes.

The Importance of Oxygen-18

Oxygen-18 is particularly important in fields such as geochemistry, hydrology, and paleoclimatology. Its unique properties allow scientists to track and analyze a range of natural processes and phenomena.


Oxygen-18 is frequently used in hydrology, the study of water distribution and movement on Earth. By analyzing the ratio of oxygen isotopes in water samples, scientists can gain insights into the origins and compositions of water sources, including rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

For example, knowing the concentration of oxygen-18 in precipitation can help identify the source of groundwater, as different regions have distinctive isotopic signatures. Additionally, studying the distribution of oxygen-18 in ice cores can provide information about past climate conditions and fluctuations.


Oxygen-18 is also vital in the field of paleoclimatology, where scientists study Earth’s climate history. By examining oxygen isotopes in fossils, ice cores, and other environmental samples, researchers can reconstruct past climate conditions and track changes over time.

The ratio of oxygen-16 to oxygen-18 preserved in various natural archives provides information about temperature and can indicate whether climate conditions were cooler or warmer during specific periods. This data helps scientists understand natural climate variability and contributes to climate change research.

Techniques and Applications

The study of oxygen-18 involves various analytical techniques and applications that contribute to a deeper understanding of natural processes and phenomena. Some of the techniques used include:

Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS)

IRMS is a powerful analytical technique that allows scientists to measure the ratios of isotopes in a sample accurately. For oxygen-18 analysis, IRMS can determine the ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16, providing crucial information about different environmental processes.

Stable Isotope Analysis

Stable isotope analysis involves measuring the ratios of stable isotopes, such as oxygen-18, in a sample. This technique is used in various fields, including ecology and food science, to trace the origin and movement of substances, assess dietary practices, and study ecological interactions.

Breath Tests

Oxygen-18 is also used in breath tests to assess different physiological processes. By administering a breath test involving labeled oxygen-18, medical professionals can measure and track the metabolism and absorption of certain compounds in the body.

Oxygen-18, known by its symbol ^18O, is an isotope of oxygen that plays a crucial role in scientific research. Its unique properties and abundance in natural processes have made it an invaluable tool for studying hydrology, paleoclimatology, and other fields. By analyzing the ratios of oxygen isotopes, scientists can gain valuable insights into Earth’s history, climate change, and various natural processes. With continued advancements in analytical techniques, the study of oxygen-18 will continue to contribute to our understanding of the world around us.

Oxygen-18 is commonly referred to as “eighteen-oxygen” in the English language.

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