Modelling and interpreting the isotopic composition of water vapour in convective updrafts
The isotopic compositions of water vapour and its condensates have long been used as tracers of the global hydrological cycle, but may also be useful for understanding processes within individual convective clouds. We review here the representation of processes that alter water isotopic compositions during processing of air in convective updrafts and present a unified model for water vapour isotopic evolution within undiluted deep convective cores, with a special focus on the out-of-equilibrium conditions of mixed-phase zones where metastable liquid water and ice coexist. We use our model to show that a combination of water isotopologue measurements can constrain critical convective parameters, including degree of supersaturation, supercooled water content and glaciation temperature. Important isotopic processes in updrafts include kinetic effects that are a consequence of diffusive growth or decay of cloud particles within a supersaturated or subsaturated environment; isotopic re-equilibration between vapour and supercooled droplets, which buffers isotopic distillation; and differing mechanisms of glaciation (droplet freezing vs. the Wegener–Bergeron–Findeisen process). As all of these processes are related to updraft strength, particle size distribution and the retention of supercooled water, isotopic measurements can serve as a probe of in-cloud conditions of importance to convective processes. We study the sensitivity of the profile of water vapour isotopic composition to differing model assumptions and show how measurements of isotopic composition at cloud base and cloud top alone may be sufficient to retrieve key cloud parameters.