Climate Dynamics

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 401-413

First online:

Stable isotopes in precipitation recording South American summer monsoon and ENSO variability: observations and model results

  • M. VuilleAffiliated withClimate System Research Center, Department of Geosciences, Morrill Science Center, University of Massachusetts Email author 
  • , M. WernerAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

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The South American Summer Monsoon (SASM) is a prominent feature of summertime climate over South America and has been identified in a number of paleoclimatic records from across the continent, including records based on stable isotopes. The relationship between the stable isotopic composition of precipitation and interannual variations in monsoon strength, however, has received little attention so far. Here we investigate how variations in the intensity of the SASM influence δ18O in precipitation based on both observational data and Atmospheric General Circulation Model (AGCM) simulations. An index of vertical wind shear over the SASM entrance (low level) and exit (upper level) region over the western equatorial Atlantic is used to define interannual variations in summer monsoon strength. This index is closely correlated with variations in deep convection over tropical and subtropical South America during the mature stage of the SASM. Observational data from the International Atomic Energy Agency-Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (IAEA-GNIP) and from tropical ice cores show a significant negative association between δ18O and SASM strength over the Amazon basin, SE South America and the central Andes. The more depleted stable isotopic values during intense monsoon seasons are consistent with the so-called ’‘amount effect‘’, often observed in tropical regions. In many locations, however, our results indicate that the moisture transport history and the degree of rainout upstream may be more important factors explaining interannual variations in δ18O. In many locations the stable isotopic composition is closely related to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), even though the moisture source is located over the tropical Atlantic and precipitation is the result of the southward expansion and intensification of the SASM during austral summer. ENSO induces significant atmospheric circulation anomalies over tropical South America, which affect both SASM precipitation and δ18O variability. Therefore many regions show a weakened relationship between SASM and δ18O, once the SASM signal is decomposed into its ENSO-, and non-ENSO-related variance.