Isotopes and Isoscapes: Tools for Testing Hydrological and Biogeochemical Models

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 10:44 AM
Carol Kendall, USGS, Menlo Park, CA, United States
In the 21st century, the importance of high quality water resources cannot be overstated. New approaches are needed to pinpoint sources and ages of multiple contaminants, and to better understand critical hydrologic systems. Stable isotopic compositions of materials often show strong spatial and temporal distributions related to combinations of sources and processes. Isoscapes (spatial and/or temporal maps) of riverine and atmospheric data are increasingly being found to be effective means for assessing the effects of different land uses and biogeochemical processes on water resources. Hence, isotopes and isoscapes are a potentially powerful component of monitoring and assessment programs that are aimed at quantifying and mitigating alterations to environments from human activities (anthropogenic disturbances). Locations exhibiting unusually high rates of biogeochemical cycling or elevated pollution levels usually have distinctive isotopic compositions that are suggestive or diagnostic of specific reactions and pollution sources. Isotopes can be more effective at identifying hot spots and hot moments than concentrations alone because isotopic ratios may change even when concentrations do not. Hence, isotopes provide valuable additions to standard chemical and hydrological mass balance methods. This presentation will examine how the field of isotope hydrology has evolved over my 40+ year career as an isotope geochemist, highlight several exciting recent research thrusts, and share some thoughts on future research directions.