Coupled rainfall and water vapour stable isotope time series reveal tropical atmospheric processes on multiple timescales

Niels C. Munksgaard, Costijn Zwart, Jordahna Haig, Lucas A. Cernusak, Michael I. Bird

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    High-frequency stable isotope data are useful for validating atmospheric moisture circulation models and provide improved understanding of the mechanisms controlling isotopic compositions in tropical rainfall. Here, we present a near-continuous 6-month record of O- and H-isotope compositions in both water vapour and daily rainfall from Northeast Australia measured by laser spectroscopy. The data set spans both wet and dry seasons to help address a significant data and knowledge gap in the southern hemisphere tropics. We interpret the isotopic records for water vapour and rainfall in the context of contemporaneous meteorological observations. Surface air moisture provided near-continuous tracking of the links between isotopic variations and meteorological events on local to regional spatial scales. Power spectrum analysis of the isotopic variation showed a range of significant periodicities, from hourly to monthly scales, and cross-wavelet analysis identified significant regions of common power for hourly averaged water vapour isotopic composition and relative humidity, wind direction, and solar radiation. Relative humidity had the greatest subdiurnal influence on isotopic composition. On longer timescales (weeks to months), isotope variability was strongly correlated with both wind direction and relative humidity. The high-frequency records showed diurnal isotopic variations in O- and H-isotope compositions due to local dew formation and, for deuterium excess, as a result of evapotranspiration. Several significant negative isotope anomalies on a daily scale were associated with the activity of regional mesoscale convective systems and the occurrence of two tropical cyclones. Calculated air parcel back trajectories identified the predominant moisture transport paths from the Southwest Pacific Ocean, whereas moisture transport from northerly directions occurred mainly during the wet season monsoonal airflow. Water vapour isotope compositions reflected the same meteorological events as recorded in rainfall isotopes but provided much more detailed and continuous information on atmospheric moisture cycling than the intermittent isotopic record provided by rainfall. Improved global coverage of stable isotope data for atmospheric water vapour is likely to improve simulations of future changes to climate drivers of the hydrological cycle.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)111-124
    Number of pages14
    JournalHydrological Processes
    Volume34
    Issue number1
    Early online date22 Aug 2019
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

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