Name, symbol Oxygen-18,18O or Ω
Neutrons 10
Protons 8
Nuclide data
Natural abundance 0.2%

Oxygen-18 (18O) is a natural, stable isotope of oxygen and one of the environmental isotopes.

18O is an important precursor for the production of fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) used in positron emission tomography (PET). Generally, in the radiopharmaceutical industry, enriched water (H218O) is bombarded with hydrogen ions in either a cyclotron or linear accelerator creating fluorine-18. This is then synthesized into FDG and injected into a patient. It can also be used to make an extremely heavy version of water, 3H218O, or T218O. This compound has a density almost 30% greater than natural water [1]



In ice cores, mainly Arctic and Antarctic, the ratio O-18/O-16 (δ18O) can be used to determine the temperature of precipitation through time. Assuming that atmospheric circulation and elevation has not changed significantly over the poles, the temperature of ice formation can be calculated as equilibrium fractionation between phases of water that is known for different temperatures. Water molecules are also subject to Rayleigh fractionation as atmospheric water moves from the equator poleward which results in progressive depletion of O-18, or lower δ18O values. In the 1950s, Harold Urey performed an experiment in which he mixed both normal water and water with oxygen-18 in a barrel, and then partially froze the barrel's contents.
The ratio O-18/O-16 18O) can also be used to determine paleothermometry in certain types of fossils. The fossils in question have to show progressive growth in the animal or plant that the fossil represents. The fossil material used is generally calcite or aragonite, however oxygen isotope paleothermometry has also been done of phosphatic fossils using SHRIMP [2] . For example, seasonal temperature variations may be determined from a single sea shell from a scallop. As the scallop grows, an extension is seen on the surface of the shell. Each growth band can be measured, and a calculation is used to determine the probable sea water temperature in comparison to each growth. The equation for this is:

T = A + B \cdot \left( \left( \delta {}^{18} \text{O} \right) \text{calcite} - \left( \delta {}^{18} \text{O} \right) \text{water} \right)

Where T is temperature in Celsius and A and B are constants.

For determination of ocean temperatures over geologic time, multiple fossils of the same species in different stratigraphic layers would be measured, and the difference between them would indicate long term changes.

Plant physiology

In the study of plants photorespiration, the labeling of atmosphere by oxygen-18 allows us to measure the oxygen uptake by the photorespiration pathway. Labeling by 18O2 gives the unidirectional flux of O2 uptake, while there is a net photosynthetic 16O2 evolution. It was demonstrated that, under preindustrial atmosphere, most plants reabsorb, by photorespiration, half of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis. Then, the yield of photosynthesis was halved by the presence of oxygen in atmosphere.

See also


  1. ^ From General Chemistry by Linus Pauling; Dover Publications; 3rd edition (April 1, 1988) 0486656225
  2. ^ Trotter, J.A.; Williams, I.S.; Barnes, C.R.; Lécuyer, C.; Nicoll, R.S. (2008). "Did Cooling Oceans Trigger Ordovician Biodiversification? Evidence from Conodont Thermometry". Science 321 (5888): 550–554. Bibcode 2008Sci...321..550T. doi:10.1126/science.1155814. 
  • Gerbaud, A., André, M., 1979. Photosynthesis and photorespiration in whole plants of wheat. Plant. Physiol. 64,735-738.
  • Canvin, D.T., Berry, J.A., Badger, M.R., Fock, H., Osmond, C.B., 1980. Oxygen Exchange in Leaves in the Light. Plant Physiol. 66 (2), 302-307.
Oxygen-18 is an
isotope of oxygen
Decay product of:
nitrogen-18, nitrogen-19, fluorine-18
Decay chain
of Oxygen-18
Decays to:

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