Measuring and Modeling Stable Isotopes of Mobile and Bulk Soil Water

Vadose Zone Journal. 2018;17(1) DOI 10.2136/vzj2017.08.0149


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Vadose Zone Journal

ISSN: 1539-1663 (Online)

Publisher: Soil Science Society of America

LCC Subject Category: Geography. Anthropology. Recreation: Environmental sciences | Science: Geology

Country of publisher: United States

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Matthias Sprenger
Doerthe Tetzlaff
Jim Buttle
Hjalmar Laudon
Hannes Leistert
Carl P.J. Mitchell
Jenna Snelgrove
Markus Weiler
Chris Soulsby


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 11 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Recent findings from stable isotope studies have opened up new questions about differences in the isotopic composition (δH and δO) of mobile (MW) and bulk water (BW) in soils. We sampled the isotopic compositions of MW using suction lysimeters and BW with the direct-equilibration method. The study was conducted at two landscape units in each of three catchments: the Bruntland Burn (Scotland), Dorset (Canada), and Krycklan (Sweden). We further used the numerical one-dimensional flow model SWIS (Soil Water Isotope Simulator) to simulate the hydrometric and isotopic dynamics. The model included evaporation fractionation, allowed differentiation between a fast and a slow flow domain, and included isotopic exchange via water vapor. Our measurements showed that MW plots along the local meteoric water lines, whereas BW plots below, which is indicative of evaporation fractionation. We suggest that the relative volume of MW to BW is relevant for explaining these isotopic differences because MW volumes are usually relatively low during periods of high evaporation. Under this condition, differences between MW and plant water isotopes are not paradoxical but rather related to the water that cannot be sampled with suction lysimeters but is still available for plant water uptake. The simulations accounting for fast and slow flow supported the conceptualization of the two soil pore domains with isotopic exchange via vapor exchange because this model setup resulted in the best model performance. Overall, these findings are of high relevance for current understanding related to the source and isotopic composition of water taken up by plants.