Stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes are important indicators for studying water cycles. The isotopes are not only affected by climate, but are also disturbed by human activities. Urban construction has changed the natural attributes and underlying surface characteristics of river basins, thus affecting the isotopic composition of river water. We collected urban river water isotope data from the Global Network for Isotopes in Rivers (GNIR) database and the literature, and collected river water samples from the Naqu basin and Huangshui River basin on the Tibetan Plateau to measure hydrogen and oxygen isotopes. Based on 13 pairs of urban area and non-urban area water samples from these data, the relationship between the isotopic values of river water and the artificial surface area of cities around rivers was analyzed. The results have shown that the hydrogen and oxygen isotope (δD and δ18
O) values of river water in urban areas were significantly higher than those in non-urban areas. The isotopic variability of urban and non-urban water was positively correlated with the artificial surface area around the rivers. In addition, based on the analysis of isotope data from 21 rivers, we found that the cumulative effects of cities on hydrogen and oxygen isotopes have led to differences in surface water line equations for cities with different levels of development. The combined effects of climate and human factors were the important reasons for the variation of isotope characteristics in river water in cities. Stable isotopes can not only be used to study the effects of climate on water cycles, but also serve as an important indicator for studying the degree of river development and utilization.
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