Understanding snow hydrological processes through the lens of stable water isotopes

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1311. This is version 1 of this Preprint.


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Harsh Beria, Josh Larsen, Natalie C. Ceperley, Anthony Michelon, Torsten Vennemann, Bettina Schaefli


Snowfall may have different stable isotopic compositions compared to rainfall, allowing its contribution to potentially be tracked through the hydrological cycle. This review summarizes the state of knowledge of how different hydro-meteorological processes affect the isotopic composition of snow, and, through selected examples, discusses how stable water isotopes can provide a better understanding of snow hydrological processes. A detailed account is given of how the variability in isotopic composition of snow changes from precipitation to final melting. The effect of different snow ablation processes (sublimation, melting, and redistribution by wind or avalanches) on the isotope ratios of the underlying snowpack are also examined. Insights into the role of canopy in snow interception processes, and how the isotopic composition in canopy underlying snowpacks can elucidate the exchanges therein are discussed, as well as case studies demonstrating the usefulness of stable water isotopes to estimate seasonality in the groundwater recharge. Rain-on-snow floods illustrate how isotopes can be useful to estimate the role of preferential flow during heavy spring rains. All these examples point to the complexity of snow hydrologic processes and demonstrate that an isotopic approach is useful to quantify snow contributions throughout the water cycle, especially in high elevation and high latitude catchments, where such processes are most pronounced. This synthesis concludes by tracing a snow particle along its entire hydrologic life cycle, highlights the major practical challenges remaining in snow hydrology and discusses future research directions.




Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Glaciology, Hydrology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Water Resource Management


snow, hydrology, isotopes, review, stable water isotopes


Published: 2017-11-07 22:11


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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