The stable isotopes of water (δ2H, δ18O) have been used extensively to track the movement of water through the hydrological cycle. As water moves through the hydrological cycle, its isotopic composition changes (fractionation) as a result of phase changes and interactions with other waters. When combined with other measurements of water fluxes and volumes, the stable isotopes can provide information about sources, processing, and transport of water suitable for determining water and energy balances. While the isotopic composition of atmospheric moisture influences the isotopic composition of terrestrial waters, obtaining ongoing time series data of this has been difficult.
One method for estimating the isotopic composition of atmospheric moisture combines the Craig-Gordon isotopic evaporation model with a mass balance approach, using water samples collected from Class A evaporation pans at weekly intervals. The method assumes steady-state conditions and thus does not represent the highly variable meteorological conditions that can strongly influence fractionation. Although water-sampling regimes cannot match the frequency of the observed variability in meteorological conditions, increasing the sampling resolution to a sub-weekly resolution will more closely align isotopic measurements with meteorological conditions and allow the assessment of established water isotope relationships at a greater temporal frequency. An alternate method for estimating the isotopic
composition of atmospheric moisture is based on local precipitation being in equilibrium with atmospheric moisture. As per the evaporation pan method, it is assumed that steady-state conditions apply.
At the Lucas Heights weather station in south-eastern Australia, atmospheric moisture water isotopes (δA) have been directly measured at sub-hourly intervals using a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer. This hydrogen isotope time series was evaluated against daily observations of isotopes in water from a Class A evaporation pan (δL) and in precipitation (δP) collected from the same site. This study assesses the validity of established (steady-state) relationships between liquid and vapor water isotopes for interactions that have been measured at the medium-resolution temporal scale, and provides a basis for improving flux estimates based on an isotope mass balance approach.
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Last updated 31st January 2013