Rayleigh Fractionation of Stable Water Isotopes during Equilibrium Freezing

Jeonghoon Lee, Hyejung Jung, Yalalt Nyamgerel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Isotopic compositions of snow or ice have been used to reconstruct paleoclimate and to calculate contribution to streamwater using isotopic hydrograph separation as an end member. During freezing and melting of snow or ice, isotopic fractionation occurs between snow or ice and liquid water. Isotopic evolution during melting process has been studied by field, melting experiments and modeling works, but that during freezing has not been well studied. In this review, isotopic fractionation during equilibrium freezing is discussed using the linear relationship between two stable water isotopes (oxygen and hydrogen) and the Rayleigh fractionation. Snow, evaporated from nearby ocean and condensated, follows the Global Meteoric Water Line (slope of 8), but the melting and freezing of snow affect the linear relationship (slope of 19.5/3.1~6.3). The isotopic evolution of liquid water by freezing observed in the open system during Rayleigh fractionation is also seen in the closed system. The isotopic evolution of snow or ice in the open system where the snow or ice is continuously removed becomes more enriched than the residual liquid water by the fractionation factor. The isotopic evolution of snow or ice in the closed system eventually equals the original isotopic compositions of liquid water. It is expected the understanding of isotopic evolution of snow or ice by freezing to increase the accuracy of the paleoclimate studies and hydrograph separation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-67
Number of pages7
JournalEconomic and Environmental Geology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

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© 2021 Korean Society of Economic and Environmental Geology. All rights reserved.


  • Freezing
  • Global meteoric water line
  • Melting
  • Rayleigh equation
  • Stable water isotopes


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