Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2657–2668, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2657–2668, 2013

Research article 11 Jul 2013

Research article | 11 Jul 2013

Spatial distribution of stable water isotopes in alpine snow cover

N. Dietermann1,† and M. Weiler1 N. Dietermann and M. Weiler
  • 1Institute of Hydrology, University Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • Died in an accident on 20 April 2012 in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan when sampling snow isotopes for his PhD.

Abstract. The aim of this study was to analyse and predict the mean stable water isotopic composition of the snow cover at specific geographic locations and altitudes. In addition, the dependence of the isotopic composition of the entire snow cover on altitude was analysed. Snow in four Swiss catchments was sampled at the end of the accumulation period in April 2010 and a second time during snowmelt in May 2010 and analysed for stable isotope composition of 2H and 18O. The sampling was conducted at both south-facing and north-facing slopes at elevation differences of 100 m, for a total altitude difference of approximately 1000 m. The observed variability of isotopic composition of the snow cover was analysed with stepwise multiple linear regression models. The analysis indicated that there is only a limited altitude effect on the isotopic composition when considering all samples. This is due to the high variability of the isotopic composition of the precipitation during the winter months and, in particular in the case of south-facing slopes, an enrichment of heavy isotopes due to intermittent melting processes. This enrichment effect could clearly be observed in the samples which were taken later in the year. A small altitudinal gradient of the isotopic composition could only be observed at some north-facing slopes. However, the dependence of snow depth and the day of the year were significant predictor variables in all models. This study indicates the necessity to further study the variability of water isotopes in the snow cover to increase prediction for isotopic composition of snowmelt and hence increase model performance of residence time models for alpine areas in order to better understand the accumulation processes and the sources of water in the snow cover of high mountains.