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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 18, issue 3 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 1653-1669, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 06 Feb 2018

Research article | 06 Feb 2018

Lagrangian process attribution of isotopic variations in near-surface water vapour in a 30-year regional climate simulation over Europe

Marina Dütsch, Stephan Pfahl, Miro Meyer, and Heini Wernli Marina Dütsch et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Stable water isotopes are naturally available tracers of moisture in the atmosphere. Due to isotopic fractionation, they record information about condensation and evaporation processes during the transport of air parcels, and therefore present a valuable means for studying the global water cycle. However, the meteorological processes driving isotopic variations are complex and not very well understood so far, in particular on short (hourly to daily) timescales. This study presents a Lagrangian method for attributing the isotopic composition of air parcels to meteorological processes, which provides new insight into the isotopic history of air parcels. It is based on the temporal evolution of the isotope ratios, the humidity, the temperature, and the location of the air parcels. Here these values are extracted along 7-day backward trajectories started every 6 hours from near the surface in a 30-year regional climate simulation over Europe with the isotope-enabled version of the model of the Consortium for Small-Scale Modelling (COSMOiso). The COSMOiso simulation has a horizontal resolution of 0.25° and is driven at the lateral boundaries by a T106 global climate simulation with the isotope-enabled version of the European Centre Hamburg model (ECHAMwiso). Both simulations are validated against measurements from the Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP), which shows that nesting COSMOiso within ECHAMwiso improves the representation of δ2H and deuterium excess in monthly accumulated precipitation. The method considers all isotopic changes that occur inside the COSMOiso model domain, which, on average, correspond to more than half of the mean and variability in both δ2H and deuterium excess at the air parcels' arrival points. Along every trajectory, the variations in the isotope values are quantitatively decomposed into eight process categories (evaporation from the ocean, evapotranspiration from land, mixing with moister air, mixing with drier air, liquid cloud formation, mixed phase cloud formation, ice cloud formation, and no process). The results show that for air parcels arriving over the ocean, evaporation from the ocean is the primary factor controlling δ2H and deuterium excess. Over land, evapotranspiration from land and mixing with moister air are similarly important. Liquid and mixed phase cloud formation contribute to the variability of δ2H and deuterium excess, especially over continental Europe. In summary, the presented method helps to better understand the linkage between the meteorological history of air parcels and their isotopic composition, and may support the interpretation of stable water isotope measurements in future.

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Short summary
Atmospheric processes are imprinted in the concentrations of stable water isotopes. Therefore, isotopes can be used to gain insight into these processes and improve our understanding of the water cycle. In this study, we present a new method that quantitatively shows which atmospheric processes influence isotope concentrations in near-surface water vapour over Europe. We found that the most important processes are evaporation from the ocean, evapotranspiration from land, and turbulent mixing.
Atmospheric processes are imprinted in the concentrations of stable water isotopes. Therefore,...