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Long-term data set analysis of stable isotopic composition in German rivers.

J. Hydrol. 552, 718-731 (2017)
Open Access Green as soon as Postprint is submitted to ZB.
Stable isotopes oxygen-18 (18O) and deuterium (2H) are commonly used to investigate hydrological processes in catchments. However, only a few isotope studies have been conducted on a large scale and rarely over long time periods. The objective of this study was to identify the spatial and seasonal variability of isotopic composition in river water and how it is affected by geographical and hydrological factors. The stable isotopic composition of river water has been measured in nine large river catchments in Germany for a time period of 12 years or 26 years. We conducted time series and correlation analyses to identify spatial and temporal patterns of the isotopic composition in the rivers. Further, we compared it to isotopic composition in local precipitation and catchments characteristics. In the majority of the rivers, the spatial and temporal patterns of precipitation were directly reflected in river water. The isotopic signals of the river water were time shifted and show attenuated amplitudes. Further deviations from isotopic compositions in local precipitation were observed in catchments with complex flow systems. These deviations were attributed to catchment processes and influences like evaporation, damming and storage. The seasonality of the isotopic composition was mainly determined by the discharge regimes of the rivers. We found correlations between isotopic long-term averages and catchment altitude as well as latitude and longitude, resulting in a northwest-southeast gradient. Furthermore, it was shown that long-term averages of d-excess were inversely related to flow length and catchment size, which indicates that evaporation enrichment has an impact on the isotopic composition even in catchments of humid climates. This study showed that isotopic composition in rivers can serve as a proxy for the local precipitation and can be utilized as an indicator for hydrological processes even in large river basins. In future, such long time series will help to also understand the impact of changes in the hydrological cycle on the larger scales. They can also be used for calibration and validation of flow and transport models at catchment and sub-catchment scale.
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Publication type Article: Journal article
Document type Scientific Article
Keywords Water stable isotopes; Deuterium-excess; Long-term data; Large river basins; Catchments; Spatial-distribution; Residence Times; Surface Waters; Precipitation; O-18; Deuterium; Hydrology; Basin; Groundwater; Missouri
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