A Caltech Library Service

Links Between Carbon and Water Cycles in Northern Ecosystems: Constraints from Stable Isotopes


Welp, Lisa Renee (2006) Links Between Carbon and Water Cycles in Northern Ecosystems: Constraints from Stable Isotopes. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/KY54-DC47.


High-latitude climate change will have an impact on the carbon and water cycles in northern ecosystems. Stable isotopes in these systems can serve as indicators of changes and feedbacks. Monitoring the stable isotopic composition of Arctic river discharge provides a means to investigate integrated basin-scale hydrologic changes in remote northern regions. I measured water δ¹⁸O and δD from the Kolyma River in Siberia and local precipitation to partition the river flow into 60% snow and 40% rain inputs. Comparing this estimate with seasonal precipitation across the watershed showed a significant portion of snowmelt is retained in the soils of this permafrost dominated region, and contributes to ~40% of the growing season transpiration. The seasonal cycles of atmospheric CO₂ and δ¹⁸O-CO₂ at high northern latitudes have the potential to serve as indicators of ecological change. Effective interpretation of atmospheric observations requires an understanding of how different species and ecosystems contribute to biosphere-atmosphere exchange. By combining isotopic signatures of ecosystem water pools with measured CO₂ fluxes in three stands of an Alaskan boreal fire chronosequence (recent burn, intermediate-aged deciduous and mature evergreen forests), I compared the relative effects of stand age on the phase and amplitude of the seasonal cycles of CO₂ and δ¹⁸O-CO₂. Higher rates of mid-summer net carbon exchange and a shorter growing season at the deciduous stand resulted in the largest seasonal CO₂ amplitude and also delayed the drawdown of atmospheric CO₂ compared to the evergreen stand. Reduced levels of photosynthesis at the deciduous stand early in the growing season caused atmospheric δ¹⁸O-CO₂ to increase more slowly compared to fluxes from the evergreen stand. The distribution of stand ages in northern boreal forests is likely to determine the response of net ecosystem exchange (NEE) to future climate changes. I used three years of NEE measurements from the Alaskan fire chronosequence to determine that the sensitivity of growing season NEE to spring air temperatures and summer drought was greater at the deciduous forest than the evergreen forest. As forest fire disturbance increases due to climate warming, the shift to younger forests should increase interannual variability in atmospheric CO₂ concentrations.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Eddy covariance; Kolyma River; oxygen-18; stable isotopes
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Environmental Science and Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Randerson, James T.
Thesis Committee:
  • Adkins, Jess F. (chair)
  • Eiler, John M.
  • Randerson, James T.
  • Wennberg, Paul O.
Defense Date:17 May 2006
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)UNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-06022006-105702
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2. adapted for Chapter 3.
Welp, Lisa Renee0000-0001-7125-0478
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2399
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:02 Jun 2006
Last Modified:06 May 2020 22:25

Thesis Files

PDF (LRW_Thesis_final.pdf) - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page