Evaporative Control on Soil Water Isotope Ratios: Implications for Atmosphere-Land Surface Water Fluxes and Interpretation of Terrestrial Proxy Records
Abstract:The moisture balance of the continental boundary layer plays an important role in regulating the exchange of water and energy between the land surface and atmosphere. Near-surface moisture balance is controlled by a number of factors including precipitation, infiltration and evapotranspiration. Measurements of stable isotope ratios in water can be exploited to better understand the mechanisms controlling atmosphere-land surface water fluxes. Understanding the processes that set sub-surface water isotope ratios can prove useful for refining paleoclimate interpretations of stable oxygen and hydrogen isotope-based proxies. We present in situ tower-based measurements of stable isotope ratios of water (δD and δ18O) in vapor, precipitation and soil from the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory, a semi-arid tall-tower site in Erie, Colorado, from July 2012 to September 2014. Near surface profiles from 0 to 10 m were measured approximately every ninety minutes. Soil profiles from 0 to 30 cm, the region of maximum variability, were sampled on a weekly basis and cryogenically extracted for stable water isotope measurement. Evaporation-proof bulk rain collectors provided precipitation samples at this site.
Results show disequilibrium exists between surface vapor and soil water isotopes, with the top 10 cm of soil water approaching equilibrium with the surface vapor right after a rain event because of high infiltration and saturation at the surface. At this semi-arid site with little vegetation, evaporative exchange is the main driver for soil water fluxes as the soil dries, corroborated by soil Dexcess profiles showing progressive enrichment through evaporation. In addition, when nighttime surface temperatures are cooler than deep soil, as is the case in many arid and semi-arid environments, upward vapor diffusion from the soil leads to dew formation at the surface which then contributes to surface vapor values. We use these observations to constrain a Craig-Gordon evaporation model at the land surface to weight the contributions of rainfall, surface water vapor exchange and sub-surface vapor diffusion to soil water isotope values. This has implications both for modeling short-term gas exchange at the land surface as well as for estimating past evaporative conditions from proxies like cave deposits and tree cellulose.