Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
26 Jan 2007
26 Jan 2007

Footprints of climate in groundwater and precipitation

A. Liebminger, G. Haberhauer, W. Papesch, and G. Heiss

Abstract. In the last decades, the 18O/16O signature of meteoric water became a key tracer intensively used both in hydrology and in paleoclimatology, based primarily on the correlation of the 18O/16O ratio in precipitation with temperature. This correlation with temperature is generally well understood as a result of Rayleigh processes of atmospheric vapour during the formation of precipitation. The resulting isotopic signals in precipitation are also transferred into the groundwater body since the isotopic composition of groundwater is determined by the precipitation infiltrating into the ground. However, the whole variability of the 18O/16O ratio especially in temporal data series of precipitation and groundwater can not be explained with temperature alone. Here we show that certain interactions between different climate induced changes in local parameters prevailing during precipitation events are able to explain a significant part of the observed deviation. These effects are superimposed by an overall isotopic pattern representing the large scale climate input primarily based on temperature. The intense variability of isotopes due to the particular topography of Austria recorded over a time period of 40 years provides an unique possibility to uncover this hidden information contributed by relative humidity and type of precipitation. Since there is a growing need to predict the variation of climate together with its associated potential hazards like floods and dry periods the results of this work are contributing to a better overall understanding of the complex interaction of climate with the corresponding water cycle.