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For example, oxygen-16 is enriched relative to the heavier oxygen isotopes in water evaporating from the sea.On the other hand, any precipitate is enriched in the heavy isotope, resulting in a further concentration of oxygen-16 in atmospheric water vapour.During this precipitation oxygen-18 is enriched by a factor of 2.5 percent relative to the lighter, more common isotope oxygen-16; the fractionation factor depends on the temperature and, consequently, can be used as a means of determining the temperature of the water in which the precipitation occurs.This is the basis of the so-called photosynthesis, carbon-12, the most common isotope of carbon, is enriched further relative to the heavier isotope, carbon-13; the cellulose and lignin in wood from trees is enriched by a factor of about 2.5 percent during this process.
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The fractionation in this case is not an equilibrium process but rather a kinetic effect: the lighter isotope proceeds faster through the photosynthetic process and, consequently, is enriched.
Physical processes, such as evaporation and condensation and thermal diffusion, may also result in significant fractionation.
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