Controls on the isotopic composition of surface water and precipitation in the Northern Andes, Colombian Eastern Cordillera

Joel E. Saylor, Andrés Mora, Brian K. Horton, Junsheng Nie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Empirical datasets provide the constraints on the variability and causes of variability in stable isotope compositions (δD or δ18O) of surface water and precipitation that are essential not only for models of modern and past climate but also for investigations of paleoelevation. This study presents stable isotope data for 76 samples from four elevation transects and three IAEA GNIP stations in the Eastern Cordillera of Colombia and the northern Andean foreland. These data are largely consistent with theories of stable isotope variability developed based on a global dataset. On a monthly basis, the precipitation-amount effect exerts the dominant control on δDp and δ18Op values at the IAEA GNIP stations. At the Bogotá station (2547 m), the δDp and δ18Op values vary seasonally, with isotopic minima correlating with maxima in precipitation-amount. Although surface water samples from Eastern Cordilleran streams and rivers fall on the Global Meteoric Water Line, samples from three of four lakes (2842-3459 m) have evaporatively elevated δDsw and δ18Osw values. The IAEA GNIP station data averaged over multiple years, combined with stream and river water data, define vertical lapse rates of -1.8‰ km-1 for Δδ18O and -14.6‰ km-1 for ΔδD, and are a close fit to a common thermodynamically based Rayleigh distillation model. Elevation uncertainties for these relationships are also evaluated. Comparison of this Colombian dataset with the elevation uncertainties generated by the thermodynamically based model shows that the model underestimates uncertainty at high Δδ18O and ΔδD values while overestimating it for low Δδ18O and ΔδD values. This study presents an independent, empirical assessment of stable isotope-based elevation uncertainties for the northern Andes based on a dataset of sufficient size to ensure statistical integrity. These vertical lapse rates and associated uncertainties form the basis for stable isotope paleoelevation studies in the northern Andes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6999-7018
Number of pages20
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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