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The variations and climatic significance of D/H ratios in the carbon-bound hydrogen of cellulose in trees


Yapp, Crayton Jeffery (1980) The variations and climatic significance of D/H ratios in the carbon-bound hydrogen of cellulose in trees. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/FFSK-YC27.


The σD values of nitrated cellulose from a variety of trees covering a wide geographic range have been measured. These measurements have been used to ascertain which factors are likely to cause σD variations in cellulose C-H hydrogen.

It is found that a primary source of tree σD variation is the σD variation of the environmental precipitation. Superimposed on this are isotopic variations caused by the transpiration of the leaf water incorporated by the tree. The magnitude of this transpiration effect appears to be related to relative humidity.

Within a single tree, it is found that the hydrogen isotope variations which occur for a ring sequence in one radial direction may not be exactly the same as those which occur in a different direction. Such heterogeneities appear most likely to occur in trees with asymmetric ring patterns that contain reaction wood. In the absence of reaction wood such heterogeneities do not seem to occur. Thus, hydrogen isotope analyses of tree ring sequences should be performed on trees which do not contain reaction wood.

Comparisons of tree σD variations with variations in local climate are performed on two levels: spatial and temporal. It is found that the σD values of 20 North American trees from a wide geographic range are reasonably well-correlated with the corresponding average annual temperature. The correlation is similar to that observed for a comparison of the σD values of annual precipitation of 11 North American sites with annual temperature. However, it appears that this correlation is significantly disrupted by trees which grew on poorly drained sites such as those in stagnant marshes. Therefore, site selection may be important in choosing trees for climatic interpretation of σD values, although proper sites do not seem to be uncommon.

The measurement of σD values in 5-year samples from the tree ring sequences of 13 trees from 11 North American sites reveals a variety of relationships with local climate. As it was for the spatial σD vs climate comparison, site selection is also apparently important for temporal tree σD vs climate comparisons. Again, it seems that poorly-drained sites are to be avoided. For nine trees from different "well-behaved" sites, it was found that the local climatic variable best related to the σD variations was not the same for all sites.

Two of these trees showed a strong negative correlation with the amount of local summer precipitation. Consideration of factors likely to influence the isotopic composition of summer rain suggests that rainfall intensity may be important. The higher the intensity, the lower the σD value. Such an effect might explain the negative correlation of σD vs summer precipitation amount for these two trees. A third tree also exhibited a strong correlation with summer climate, but in this instance it was a positive correlation of σD with summer temperature.

The remaining six trees exhibited the best correlation between σD values and local annual climate. However, in none of these six cases was it annual temperature that was the most important variable. In fact annual temperature commonly showed no relationship at all with tree σD values. Instead, it was found that a simple mass balance model incorporating two basic assumptions yielded parameters which produced the best relationships with tree σD values. First, it was assumed that the σD values of these six trees reflected the σD values of annual precipitation incorporated by these trees. Second, it was assumed that the σD value of the annual precipitation was a weighted average of two seasonal isotopic components: summer and winter. Mass balance equations derived from these assumptions yielded combinations of variables that commonly showed a relationship with tree σD values where none had previously been discerned.

It was found for these "well-behaved" trees that not all sample intervals in a σD vs local climate plot fell along a well-defined trend. These departures from the local σD VS climate norm were defined as "anomalous". Some of these anomalous intervals were common to trees from different locales. When such widespread commonalty of an anomalous interval occurred, it was observed that the interval corresponded to an interval in which drought had existed in the North American Great Plains.

Consequently, there appears to be a combination of both local and large scale climatic information in the σD variations of tree cellulose C-H hydrogen.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Geology, hydrogen isotopes, cellulose, climate proxy, trees, meteoric waters, carbon-bound hydrogen
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geochemistry
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Epstein, Samuel
Thesis Committee:
  • Burnett, Donald S.
  • Lowenstam, Heinz A.
  • Patterson, Clair C.
  • Taylor, Hugh P.
Defense Date:1 May 1980
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:08132014-153838558
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8634
Deposited On:14 Aug 2014 14:47
Last Modified:09 Nov 2022 19:20

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