Isotopic variations in melting snow are poorly understood. We made weekly measurements at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, California, of snow temperature, density, water equivalent and liquid water volume to examine how physical changes within the snowpack govern meltwater ??18O. Snowpack samples were extracted at 0.1 m intervals from ground level to the top of the snowpack profile between December 1991 and April 1992. Approximately 800 mm of precipitation fell during the study period with ??18O values between -21.35 and -4.25???. Corresponding snowpack ??18O ranged from -22.25 to -6.25???. The coefficient of variation of ??18O in snowpack levels decreased from -0.37 to -0.07 from winter to spring, indicating isotopic snowpack homogenization. Meltwater ??18O ranged from -15.30 to -8.05???, with variations of up to 2.95??? observed within a single snowmelt episode, highlighting the need for frequent sampling. Early snowmelt originated in the lower snowpack with higher ??18O through ground heat flux and rainfall. After the snowpack became isothermal, infiltrating snowmelt displaced the higher ??18O liquid in the lower snowpack through a piston flow process. Fractionation analysis using a two-component mixing model on the isothermal snowpack indicated that ??18O in the initial and final half of major snowmelt was 1.30??? lower and 1.45??? higher, respectively, than the value from simple mixing. Mean snowpack ??18O on individual profiling days showed a steady increase from -15.15 to -12.05??? due to removal of lower ??18O snowmelt and addition of higher ??18O rainfall. Results suggest that direct sampling of snowmelt and snow cores should be undertaken to quantify tracer input compositions adequately. The snowmelt sequence also suggests that regimes of early lower ??18O and later higher ??18O melt may be modeled and used in catchment tracing studies. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Isotope variations in a Sierra Nevada snowpack and their relation to meltwater