Leaf water and plant wax hydrogen isotopes in a European sample network

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Daniel B Nelson, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland and Ansgar Kahmen, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
The hydrogen isotopic composition of plant waxes in sediments is now routinely used as a hydroclimate proxy. This application is based largely on empirical calibrations that have demonstrated continental-scale correlations between source water and lipid hydrogen isotope values. But at smaller spatial scales and for individual locations it is increasingly recognized that factors that modify apparent fractionation between source water and leaf lipid hydrogen isotope values must also be considered. Isotopic enrichment of leaf water during transpiration is key among these secondary factors, and is itself sensitive to changes in hydroclimate. Leaf water enrichment also occurs prior to photosynthetic water uptake, and is therefore independent from cellular-level biomarker synthesis. Recent advances in theory have permitted mechanistic models to be developed that can be used to predict the mean leaf water hydrogen and oxygen isotope composition from readily available meteorological variables. This permits global-scale isoscape maps of leaf water isotopic composition and enrichment above source water to be generated, but these models have not been widely validated at continental spatial scales.

We have established a network of twenty-one sites across Europe where we are sampling for leaf-, xylem-, and soil-water isotopes (H and O) at approximately 5-week intervals over the summer growing season. We augment the sample set with weekly to monthly precipitation samples and early- and late-season plant wax lipid samples. Collaborators at each site are conducting the sampling, and most sites are members of the FLUXNET tower network that also record high-resolution meteorological data. We present information on the implementation of the network and preliminary results from the 2014 summer season. The complete dataset will be used to track the evolution of water isotopes from source to leaf water and from leaf water to lipid hydrogen across diverse environments. This will provide a more focused framework for understanding the environmental signal captured in leaf waxes, and will be used to refine models of isotopic processes within plants as well as the impact of these processes on surface and atmospheric water.