Continuous, near-real-time observations of water stable isotope ratios during rainfall and throughfall events

Herbstritt, Barbara; Gralher, Benjamin; Weiler, Markus

The water isotopic composition of throughfall is affected by complex diffusive exchange with ambient water vapour, evaporative enrichment of heavy isotopes, and mixing processes in the tree canopy. All interception processes occur simultaneously in space and time, generating a complex pattern of throughfall depth and water isotopic composition. This pattern ultimately cascades through the entire hydrologic system and is therefore crucial for isotope studies in catchment hydrology, where recharge areas are often forested, while reference meteorological stations are generally in the open. For the quasi real-time observation of the water isotopic composition (δ18O and δ2H) of both gross precipitation and throughfall, we developed an approach combining a membrane contactor (Membrana) with a laser-based Cavity Ring-Down Spectrometer (CRDS, Picarro), obtaining isotope readings every 2 s. A setup with two CRDS instruments in parallel analysing gross precipitation and throughfall simultaneously was used for the continuous observation of the temporal effect of interception processes on the stable isotopes of water. All devices were kept small to minimize dead volume with time lags of only 4 min for water from the rainfall collectors to the isotope analysers to increase the temporal resolution of isotope observations.

Complementarily, meteorological variables were recorded at high temporal resolution at the same location. The achieved evolution from discrete liquid or event-based bulk samples to continuous measurements allows for direct comparison of water stable isotope data with common meteorological measurements. Future improvements of the spatial representativeness will make our approach an even more powerful tool towards detailed insight into the dynamic processes contributing to interception during rainfall events.

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Herbstritt, Barbara / Gralher, Benjamin / Weiler, Markus: Continuous, near-real-time observations of water stable isotope ratios during rainfall and throughfall events. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Barbara Herbstritt et al.

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