Special Issue "Stable Isotopes in Atmospheric Research"

A special issue of Atmosphere (ISSN 2073-4433).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 August 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Athanassios A. Argiriou

Atmospheric & Environmental Physics, Department of Physics, University of Patras
Website | E-Mail
Interests: stable isotopes in the atmosphere; geostatistics; atmospheric data time series; homogenization of meteorological data; energy meteorology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The use of stable isotopes in atmospheric research stems from the use of isotopic tools and other nuclear methods in the study of the water cycle, which appeared in the mid-1940s. The works of teams like those of Tongiorgi, Italy, Urey, USA, and later that of Gat, Israel, gave important momentum in the field. The first isotope used, although not stable, was tritium. Tritium in the atmosphere is a result of natural processes—interactions between the various atmospheric components and cosmic radiation—but it is also due to human activities, mainly open-air thermonuclear tests, which resulted in the increase of its concentration to hazardous levels. Because of that, a systematic measurement campaign of tritium levels in the atmosphere and in water bodies was initiated all over the world. This monitoring led to the collection of very important information that allowed the study of global circulation patterns of water vapor in the atmosphere and the relation between the isotopic signature and meteorological and climatic conditions [1].

Later, in the early 1960s, starting with the works of Craig [2], Craig and Gordon [3] and Dansgaard [4], it was shown that the isotope fractionation of stable water isotopes, namely deuterium (D) and 18Ο observed in precipitation, could be adequately modeled using the Rayleigh differential equation describing the enrichment of alcohol in an alcohol/water mixture by distillation under equilibrium conditions; a linear relationship between the differences of the ratio of the numbers of an isotopic molecule with respect to the ratio of a standard, δ(2H) and δ(18O), termed to as meteoric water line, was established. Further studies showed that the evaporation of water over the oceans is a non-equilibrium process, but the inverse process (rainout from the atmosphere) occurs close to equilibrium and that the constant term of the linear model (termed to as d-excess parameter by Dansgaard [4]) depends on the source condition of the vapor and the slope on the fractionation mechanisms [5]. It was therefore found that the δ(2H) ~ δ(18O) relation (slope and constant term) depends upon (i) fractionation conditions, (ii) latitude and annual temperature, (iii) seasonal variations, (iv) distance from the coastline, (v) amount, and (vi) small scale variations [6].

Therefore, stable isotopes provide, via the isotopic signature of atmospheric water vapor and precipitation an invaluable tool for atmospheric, meteorological and climatic studies. As examples, we may cite the use of stable isotopes to study: The Pacific and Indian monsoon systems and the of the ITCZ in Asia during the summer [7–9], cloud physics [10], and global circulation models [11]. Additionally, stable isotopes have been used to study precipitation [12], past flood events [13], partitioning of the evapotranspiration [14], passage of cold fronts [15] and palaioclimate [16].

Also, stable isotopes are used to study problems of atmospheric chemistry, for example the global cycling of sulphur [17], the understanding of global CO2 cycle [18] and that of nitrogen [19].

Due to the importance of stable isotopes as a research tool in the field of atmospheric physics, the present Special Issue of Atmosphere aims to inform the scientific community about the current progress in the applications of stable isotopes in atmospheric research, covering a wide range of fields, i.e., atmospheric physics, dynamics of the atmosphere, meteorology, climatology and paleo climatology to further enhance their use in this discipline.


[1] Aggarwal, P.K.; Froehlich, K.; Gonfiantini, R.; Gat, J.R. Isotope hydrology: a historical perspective from the IAEA. In Isotopes in the Water Cycle – Past, Present and Future of a Developing Science; Aggarwal, P.K., Gat, J.R., Froehlich, K., Eds.; Springer, The Netherlands, 2005; pp. 3–8.

[2] Craig, H. Isotopic variations in meteoric waters. Science 1961, 133, 1702–1703.

[3] Craig, H; Gordon, L.I. Deuterium and oxygen-18 variations in the ocean and the marine atmosphere. In Stable Isotopes in Oceanographic Studies and Palaiotemperatures; Tongiorgi, E, Ed.; Lab. Geol. Nucl. Pisa, Italy, 1965, pp. 1–122.

[4] Dansgaard, W. Stable isotopes in precipitation. Tellus 1964, 4, 436–468.

[5] Gat, J.R. Some classical concepts of isotope hydrology: “Rayleigh fractionation, Meteoric Water Lines, the Dansgaard effects (altitude, latitude, distance from coast and amount effects) and the d-excess parameter”. In Isotopes in the Water Cycle – Past, Present and Future of a Developing Science; Aggarwal, P.K., Gat, J.R., Froehlich, K., Eds.; Springer, The Netherlands, 2005; pp. 127–137.

[6] Gat, J.R. Atmospheric water. In Environmental Isotopes in the Hydrological Cycle; Mook, W.G; Meijer, H.A.J., Eds.; International Atomic Energy Agency and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, Vienna, 2001; Volume II, pp. 197–207.

[7] Araguás-Araguás, L.; Froehlich, K; Rozanski, K. Stable isotope composition of precipitation over southeast Asia. JGR Atmospheres 1999, 103, 28721–28742, doi: 10.1029/98JD02582.

[8] Breitenbach, S.F.M.; Adkins, J.F.; Meyer, H.; Marwan, N.; Kumar, K.K.; Haug, G.H. Strong influence of water vapor source dynamics on stable isotopes in precipitation observed in Southern Meghalaya, NE India. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 2010; 292, 212–220, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2010.01.038.

[9] Yu, W.; Yao, T.; Tian, L.; Ma, Y.; Wen, R., Devkota, L.P.; Wang, W.; Qu, D.; Chhetri, T.B. Short-term variability in the dates of the Indian monsoon onset and retreat on the southern and northern slopes of the central Himalayas as determined by precipitation stable isotopes. Clim. Dyn. 2016, 47: 159–172, doi:10.1007/s00382-015-2829-1.

[10] Jouzel, J.  Isotopes in cloud physics: multiphase and multistage condensation processes. In: Handbook of Environmental Isotope Geochemistry; Fritz, P.; Fontes, J.C., Eds.; Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1986; Volume 2, pp. 61–105.

[11] Jouzel, J.; Russel, G.L.; Suozzo, R.J.; Koster, R.D.; White, W.C.; Broecker, W.S. Simulations of the HDO and H218O atmospheric cycles using the NASA GISS general circulation model: The seasonal cycle for present‐day conditions. JGR Atmospheres 1987, 92, 14739–14760.

[12] Tang, Y.; Xianfang, S.; Yinghua, Z.; Dongmei, H.; Likun, A.; Tianbao, Z.; Yajun, W. Using stable isotopes to understand seasonal and interannual dynamics in moisture sources and atmospheric circulation in precipitation. Hydrol. Process. 2017, 31, 4682–4692, doi: 10.1002/hyp.11388

[13] Ferrio, J.P.; Díez-Herrero, A.; Tarrés, D.; Ballesteros-Cánovas, J.A.; Aguilera, M.; Bodoque, J.M. Using stable isotopes of oxygen from tree-rings to study the origin of past flood events: first results from the Iberian Peninsula. Quatenaire 2015, 26, 67–80, doi: 10.4000/quaternaire.7172

[14] Aouade, G.; Ezzahar, J.; Amenzou, N.; Er-Raki, S.; Benkaddour, A.; Khabba, S.; Jarlan, L. Combining stable isotopes, Eddy Covariance system and meteorological measurements for partitioning evapotranspiration, of winter wheat, into soil evaporation and plant transpiration in a semi-arid region. Agric. Water Manag., 2016, 177, 181–192, doi: 10.1016/j.agwat.2016.07.021.

[15] Aemisegger, F.; Spiege, J.K.; Pfahl, S.; Sodemann, H.; Eugster, W.; Wernli, H. Isotope meteorology of cold front passages: A case study combining observations and modeling. Geophys. Res. Let., 2015, 42, 5652–5660, doi:10.1002/2015GL063988.

[16] Jouzel, J,; Alley, R.B.; Cuffey, K.M.; Dansgaard, W.; Grootes, P.; Hoffmann, G.; Johnsen, S.J., Koster, R.D.; Peel, D.; Shuman, C.A.; Stievenard, M.; Stuiver, M.; White, J. Validity of the temperature reconstruction from water isotopes in ice cores. J.G.R.: Oceans, 1997, 102(C12), 26471-26487, doi:10.1029/97JC01283.

[17] Krouse, H.R. Stable isotopes: Natural and anthropogenic sulphur in the environment. SCOPE, 1991, 43, 465 p. John Wiley and Sons; Chichester (United Kingdom); ISBN 0-471-92646-9.

[18] Welp, L.R.; Keeling, R.F.; Meijer, H.A.J.; Bollenbacher, A.F.; Piper, S.C.; Yoshimura, K.; Francey, R.J.; Allison, C.E.; Wahlen, M. Interannual variability in the oxygen isotopes of atmospheric CO2 driven by El Niño. Nature, 2011, 477, p.579-582, doi: 10.1038/nature10421.

[19] Mariotti, A. Atmospheric nitrogen is a reliable standard for natural 15N abundance measurements. Nature, 1983, 303,  685-687, doi: 10.1038/303685a0.

Prof. Athanassios A. Argiriou
Guest Editor

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