Observing and Modeling the Isotopic Evolution of Snow Meltwater on the Southeastern Tibetan Plateau

Tao Pu, Ke Wang, Yanlong Kong, Xiaoyi Shi, Shichang Kang, Yonghui Huang, Yuanqing He, Shijin Wang, Jeonghoon Lee, Matthias Cuntz

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Observing the isotopic evolution of snow meltwater helps in understanding the process of snow melting but remains a challenge to acquire in the field. In this study, we monitored the melting of two snowpacks near Baishui Glacier No. 1, a typical temperate glacier on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. We employed a physically based isotope model (PBIM) to calculate the isotopic composition of meltwater draining from natural snowpacks. The initial condition of the PBIM was revised to account for natural conditions, i.e., the initial δ18O stratigraphy of snow layers before melting. Simulations revealed that the initial heterogeneity of δ18O in snow layers as well as ice-liquid isotopic exchange were responsible for most variations of δ18O in snow meltwater, whereas new snow and wind drift could result in sudden changes of the isotopic composition of the meltwater. The fraction of ice involved in the isotopic exchange (f) was the most sensitive parameter for the model output. The initial δ18O in the snowpack is mirrored in meltwater in case of small f and is smoothed with a large exchange fraction f. The other unknown parameter of the PBIM is the dimensionless rate constant of isotopic exchange, which depends on water percolation and initial snow depth. The successful application of the PBIM in the field might not only be useful for understanding snow melting process but might also provide the possibility of predicting the isotopic composition of snow meltwater and improve the accuracy of hydrograph separation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019WR026423
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020

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  • Tibetan Plateau
  • isotopic evolution
  • isotopic exchange
  • model
  • snow meltwater
  • temperate glacier


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