Like many mountainous areas in the tropics, watersheds in the Luquillo Mountains of eastern Puerto Rico have abundant rainfall and stream discharge and provide much of the water supply for the densely populated metropolitan areas nearby. Projected changes in regional temperature and atmospheric dynamics as a result of global warming suggest that water availability will be affected by changes in rainfall patterns. It is essential to understand the relative importance of different weather systems to water supply to determine how changes in rainfall patterns, interacting with geology and vegetation, will affect the water balance. To help determine the links between climate and water availability, stable isotope signatures of precipitation from different weather systems were established to identify those that are most important in maintaining streamflow and groundwater recharge. Precipitation stable isotope values in the Luquillo Mountains had a large range, from fog/cloud water with δ2H, δ18O values as high as +12 ‰, −0.73 ‰ to tropical storm rain with values as low as −127 ‰, −16.8 ‰. Temporal isotope values exhibit a reverse seasonality from those observed in higher latitude continental watersheds, with higher isotopic values in the winter and lower values in the summer. Despite the higher volume of convective and low-pressure system rainfall, stable isotope analyses indicated that under the current rainfall regime, frequent trade -wind orographic showers contribute much of the groundwater recharge and stream base flow. Analysis of rain events using 20 years of 15 -minute resolution data at a mountain station (643 m) showed an increasing trend in rainfall amount, in agreement with increased precipitable water in the atmosphere, but differing from climate model projections of drying in the region. The mean intensity of rain events also showed an increasing trend. The determination of recharge sources from stable isotope tracers indicates that water supply will be affected if regional atmospheric dynamics change trade- wind orographic rainfall patterns in the Caribbean.
Additional publication details
Precipitation isotopes link regional climate patterns to water supply in a tropical mountain forest, eastern Puerto Rico