09 Dec 2020

09 Dec 2020

Review status: a revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal WCD and is expected to appear here in due course.

High-resolution stable isotope signature of a land-falling Atmospheric River in southern Norway

Yongbiao Weng, Harald Sodemann, and Aina Johannessen Yongbiao Weng et al.
  • Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway

Abstract. Heavy precipitation at the west coast of Norway is often connected to elongated meridional structures of high integrated water vapour transport known as Atmospheric Rivers (AR). Here we present high-resolution measurements of stable isotopes in water vapour and precipitation during a land-falling AR event in western Norway on 07 December 2016. In our analysis, we aim to identify the influences of moisture source conditions, weather system characteristics, and post-condensation processes on the isotopic signal in near-surface water vapour and surface precipitation.

A total of 71 precipitation samples were collected during the 24-h sampling period, mostly taken at sampling intervals of 10–20 min. The isotope composition of near-surface vapour was continuously monitored in-situ with a cavity ring-down spectrometer. Local meteorological conditions were in addition observed from a vertical pointing rain radar, a laser disdrometer, and automatic weather stations.

We observe a stretched, W-shaped evolution of isotope composition during the event. Combining isotopic and meteorological observations, we define four different stages of the event. The two most depletion periods in the isotope δ values are associated with frontal transitions, namely a combination of two warm fronts that follow each other within a few hours, and an upper-level cold front. The d-excess shows a single maximum, and a step-wise decline in both precipitation and a gradual decrease in near-surface vapour. Thereby, isotopic evolution of the near-surface vapour closely follows the precipitation with a time delay of about 30 min, except for the first stage of the event. Analysis using an isotopic below-cloud exchange framework shows that the initial period of low and even negative d-excess in precipitation was caused by evaporation below cloud base. At the ground, a near-constant signal representative of the airmass above is only reached after transition periods of several hours. Moisture source diagnostics for the event show that the moisture source conditions for these steady periods are partly reflected in the surface precipitation at these times.

Based on our observations, we revisit the interpretation of precipitation isotope measurements during AR events in previous studies. Given that the isotopic signal in surface precipitation reflects a combination of atmospheric dynamics through moisture sources and atmospheric distillation, as well as cloud microphysics and below-cloud processes, we recommend caution regarding how Rayleigh distillation models are used during data interpretation. While the isotope composition in water vapour during convective precipitation events may be more adequately represented by idealized Rayleigh models, additional factors should be taken into account when interpreting a surface precipitation isotope signal from stratiform clouds.

Yongbiao Weng et al.

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Status: closed
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Yongbiao Weng et al.

Yongbiao Weng et al.


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Short summary
High-resolution measurements of stable isotopes in near-surface vapour and precipitation show a W-shaped evolution during a 24-h landfalling atmospheric river event in southern Norway. We distinguish contributions from below-cloud processes, weather system characteristics, and moisture source conditions during different stages of the event. Rayleigh distillation models need to be expanded by additional processes to accurately predict isotopes in surface precipitation from stratiform clouds.