Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Research article
07 Apr 2017
Research article |  | 07 Apr 2017

Annual variation in event-scale precipitation δ2H at Barrow, AK, reflects vapor source region

Annie L. Putman, Xiahong Feng, Leslie J. Sonder, and Eric S. Posmentier

Abstract. In this study, precipitation isotopic variations at Barrow, AK, USA, are linked to conditions at the moisture source region, along the transport path, and at the precipitation site. Seventy precipitation events between January 2009 and March 2013 were analyzed for δ2H and deuterium excess. For each precipitation event, vapor source regions were identified with the hybrid single-particle Lagrangian integrated trajectory (HYSPLIT) air parcel tracking program in back-cast mode. The results show that the vapor source region migrated annually, with the most distal (proximal) and southerly (northerly) vapor source regions occurring during the winter (summer). This may be related to equatorial expansion and poleward contraction of the polar circulation cell and the extent of Arctic sea ice cover. Annual cycles of vapor source region latitude and δ2H in precipitation were in phase; depleted (enriched) δ2H values were associated with winter (summer) and distal (proximal) vapor source regions. Precipitation δ2H responded to variation in vapor source region as reflected by significant correlations between δ2H with the following three parameters: (1) total cooling between lifted condensation level (LCL) and precipitating cloud at Barrow, ΔTcool, (2) meteorological conditions at the evaporation site quantified by 2 m dew point, Td, and (3) whether the vapor transport path crossed the Brooks and/or Alaskan ranges, expressed as a Boolean variable, mtn. These three variables explained 54 % of the variance (p<0. 001) in precipitation δ2H with a sensitivity of −3.51 ± 0.55 ‰ °C−1 (p<0. 001) to ΔTcool, 3.23 ± 0.83 ‰ °C−1 (p<0. 001) to Td, and −32.11 ± 11.04 ‰ (p = 0. 0049) depletion when mtn is true. The magnitude of each effect on isotopic composition also varied with vapor source region proximity. For storms with proximal vapor source regions (where ΔTcool <7 °C), ΔTcool explained 3 % of the variance in δ2H, Td alone accounted for 43 %, while mtn explained 2 %. For storms with distal vapor sources (ΔTcool > 7°C), ΔTcool explained 22 %, Td explained only 1 %, and mtn explained 18 %. The deuterium excess annual cycle lagged by 2–3 months during the δ2H cycle, so the direct correlation between the two variables is weak. Vapor source region relative humidity with respect to the sea surface temperature, hss, explained 34 % of variance in deuterium excess, (−0.395 ± 0.067 ‰ %−1, p<0. 001). The patterns in our data suggest that on an annual scale, isotopic ratios of precipitation at Barrow may respond to changes in the southerly extent of the polar circulation cell, a relationship that may be applicable to interpretation of long-term climate change records like ice cores.

Short summary
Water vapor source and transport are linked to the stable isotopes of precipitation of 70 storms at Barrow, AK, USA. Barrow's vapor came from the North Pacific in winter and the Arctic Ocean in summer. Half the isotopic variability was explained by the size of the temperature drop from the vapor source to Barrow, the evaporation conditions, and whether the vapor traveled over mountains. Because isotopes reflect the regional meteorology they may be early indicators of Arctic hydroclimatic change.
Final-revised paper