Articles | Volume 21, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 533–548, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 533–548, 2017

Research article 27 Jan 2017

Research article | 27 Jan 2017

Response of water vapour D-excess to land–atmosphere interactions in a semi-arid environment

Stephen D. Parkes1, Matthew F. McCabe1,2, Alan D. Griffiths3, Lixin Wang4, Scott Chambers3, Ali Ershadi1,2, Alastair G. Williams3, Josiah Strauss2, and Adrian Element3 Stephen D. Parkes et al.
  • 1Water Desalination and Reuse Centre, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • 3Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • 4Department of Earth Sciences, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Indianapolis, IN, USA

Abstract. The stable isotopic composition of water vapour provides information about moisture sources and processes difficult to obtain with traditional measurement techniques. Recently, it has been proposed that the D-excess of water vapour (dv  =  δ2H − 8  ×  δ18O) can provide a diagnostic tracer of continental moisture recycling. However, D-excess exhibits a diurnal cycle that has been observed across a variety of ecosystems and may be influenced by a range of processes beyond regional-scale moisture recycling, including local evaporation (ET) fluxes. There is a lack of measurements of D-excess in evaporation (ET) fluxes, which has made it difficult to assess how ET fluxes modify the D-excess in water vapour (dv). With this in mind, we employed a chamber-based approach to directly measure D-excess in ET (dET) fluxes. We show that ET fluxes imposed a negative forcing on the ambient vapour and could not explain the higher daytime dv values. The low dET observed here was sourced from a soil water pool that had undergone an extended drying period, leading to low D-excess in the soil moisture pool. A strong correlation between daytime dv and locally measured relative humidity was consistent with an oceanic moisture source, suggesting that remote hydrological processes were the major contributor to daytime dv variability. During the early evening, ET fluxes into a shallow nocturnal inversion layer caused a lowering of dv values near the surface. In addition, transient mixing of vapour with a higher D-excess from above the nocturnal inversion modified these values, causing large variability during the night. These results indicate dET can generally be expected to show large spatial and temporal variability and to depend on the soil moisture state. For long periods between rain events, common in semi-arid environments, ET would be expected to impose negative forcing on the surface dv. Spatial and temporal variability of D-excess in ET fluxes therefore needs to be considered when using dv to study moisture recycling and during extended dry periods with weak moisture recycling may act as a tracer of the relative humidity at the oceanic moisture source.

Short summary
Determining atmospheric moisture sources is required for understanding the water cycle. The role of land surface fluxes is a particular source of uncertainty for moisture budgets. Water vapour isotopes have the potential to improve constraints on moisture sources. In this work relationships between water vapour isotopes and land–atmosphere exchange are studied. Results show that land surface evaporative fluxes play a minor role in the daytime water and isotope budgets in semi-arid environments.