Analyzing drivers of variability in the Δ17O of nitrate in the northwestern United States
Abstract:The Δ17O of nitrate (NO3-) has beens used to track atmospheric inputs to ecosystems with biological sources near 0‰ and atmospheric sources from 20 to 40‰. The elevated Δ17O of atmospheric NO3- is due to oxidation with ozone. We analyzed the isotope composition of NO3- in weekly precipitation samples from 8 NADP/USNIP sites in the northwestern US between 1997-2004. Each site exhibits annual variation with lowest Δ17O during summer and highest Δ17O during winter. WA24 and WA19 exhibited the greatest (14.0‰) and least (8.9‰) annual variation, respectively.
This significant and variable amount of seasonal change motivated analyzing drivers of this variability. Potential factors that influence Δ17O were evaluated with linear regression. Meteorological variables were tested which may account for inter-week variation. Measures of fire activity were included for effects on atmospheric oxidation. Lastly, NADP ion concentrations were used as potential indicators of marine influence which could introduce halogen chemistry and alter oxidation.
Temperature was the only variable to significantly correlate with Δ17O at all sites (P<0.0001 at ID11 to P=0.05 at WA98). Fire activity (number of fires, area burned) significantly correlated with Δ17O at 4 of 8 sites (p<0.05) and suggested potential influence at 3 additional sites (0.1> P >0.05). No potential indicators of marine influence showed a relationship with Δ17O at coastal sites (WA19 and WA98), but there was a significant relationship between concentrations of Na and Cl with Δ17O at UT01 site which is influenced by the Great Salt Lake. Overall, temperature and fire activity best explain variability in the Δ17O of NO3- in the northwestern US.
Understanding this variability is crucial to correctly attribute NO3- sources in ecological studies between biological and atmospheric inputs in mixing models. Incorrect accounting of variability leads to unnecessary error and incorrect identification of NO3- sources in these systems.