Do oxygen stable isotopes track precipitation moisture source in vascular plant dominated peatlands?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Dan Charman1, Matthew John Amesbury2, Rewi Newnham3, N Loader4, Jordan P Goodrich5, Angela V Gallego-Sala2, Jessica Royles6, Elizabeth D Keller7 and W Troy Baisden8, (1)University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4, United Kingdom, (2)University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom, (3)Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, (4)Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom, (5)University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, (6)University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (7)GNS Science-Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd, Lower Hutt, New Zealand, (8)Institute Geological & Nuclear Sciences, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Variations in the isotopic composition of precipitation are determined by fractionation processes which occur during temperature and humidity dependent phase changes associated with evaporation and condensation. Oxygen stable isotope ratios have therefore been frequently used as a source of palaeoclimate data from a variety of proxy archives. Exploitation of this record from ombrotrophic peatlands, where the source water used in cellulose synthesis is derived solely from precipitation, has been mostly limited to Northern Hemisphere Sphagnum-dominated bogs, with limited application in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) or in peatlands dominated by vascular plants.

Throughout New Zealand (NZ), the preserved root matrix of the restionaceous wire rush (Empodisma spp.) forms deep peat deposits. NZ provides an ideal location to undertake empirical research into oxygen isotope fractionation in vascular peatlands because sites are ideally suited to single taxon analysis, preserve potentially high resolution full Holocene palaeoclimate records and are situated in the climatically sensitive SH mid-latitudes. Crucially, large gradients exist in the mean isotopic composition of precipitation across NZ, caused primarily by the relative influence of different climate modes.

We test the capacity for δ18O analysis of Empodisma alpha cellulose from ombrotrophic restiad peatlands in NZ to provide a methodology for developing palaeoclimate records. We took surface plant, water and precipitation samples over spatial (six sites spanning >10° latitude) and temporal (monthly measurements over one year) gradients. We found a strong link between the isotopic compositions of surface root water, the most likely source water for plant growth, and precipitation in both datasets. Back-trajectory modelling of precipitation moisture source for rain days prior to sampling showed clear seasonality in the temporal data that was reflected in surface root water. The link between source water and plant cellulose was less clear, although mechanistic modelling predicted mean cellulose values within published error margins for both datasets. Improved understanding and modelling of δ18O in restiad peatlands should enable use of this approach as a new source of palaeoclimate data to reconstruct changes in past atmospheric circulation