Dynamical and Microphysical Controls on Subtropical Water Vapor Isotope Ratios: Using New Spectroscopic Measurements to Link Isotopic and Climatic Variability
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Water vapor isotope ratios are critical in shaping the isotopic composition of paleo-proxies used to interpret past climate. Indeed, previous research suggests speleothems are sensitive to water vapor transport, and experiments currently underway are evaluating the role of Greenlandic vapor in setting the isotopic record of the ice sheet. The recent and rapid spread of commercial vapor isotopic analyzers—based on cavity-enhanced near-infrared laser absorption spectroscopy—is creating unparalleled opportunities to elucidate which climatic factors control the vapor isotopic composition globally. This presentation describes both an exciting application of this new technology and relevant limitations imposed by measurement uncertainties associated with long-term field deployments. Using three years of continuous water vapor isotope ratio observations from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory—one of the longest records of its kind—we evaluate the influence of large-scale dynamics and cloud microphysical processes in establishing the isotopic composition of water vapor during strong convective activity. Despite the fact that vapor isotope ratios tend to decrease with latitude, greater enrichment in Mauna Loa vapor is associated with a westward retraction of the jet stream, which funnels Asiatic outflow southward, while greater depletion is associated with southwesterly low-level flow. Differences in precipitation efficiency—which are verified by differences in aerosol concentration and total scattering—cause this apparent discrepancy. These results suggest local cloud and precipitation processes are more influential than airmass origin in setting the isotope ratios observed during these strong convective events. The length of the Mauna Loa record, meanwhile, presents a unique opportunity to evaluate long-term stability of biases associated with laser-based isotopic analyzers and to discuss calibration strategies best suited for monitoring programs designed to evaluate transient relationships between isotopic and climatic variability.