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Winter precipitation isotope slopes of the contiguous USA and their relationship to the Pacific/North American (PNA) pattern

Abstract

This study compares the synoptic-dynamic relationship between two phases of the Pacific/North American (PNA) pattern and winter precipitation isotopes at 73 sites across the contiguous USA. We use the spatial pattern of isotope slope—the rate of changes in precipitation isotope ratios with distance—to identify features in the seasonal precipitation isotope fields related to climatic patterns, PNA positive and PNA negative. Our results show relationships between zones of high isotope slopes and the spatial position of the polar jet stream and juxtaposition of air masses associated with the PNA pattern. During a positive PNA winter, zones of high isotope slope in the eastern USA shift southward. This change is coincident with a southward displacement of the polar jet stream in this region, which leads to a greater frequency of polar air masses and 18O-depleted isotope values of precipitation in the region. In the western USA, zones of high slope shift eastward during the positive PNA winter, associated with more frequent penetration of tropical air masses that bring 18O-enriched precipitation to the region. Differences in δ18O/temperature relationships between the PNA-positive and -negative winters and contrasting δ18O/temperature behaviors in the eastern and western USA provide support for the role of variation in moisture source and transport as a control on the isotopic patterns. These findings highlight the importance of synoptic climate driven by PNA pattern in determining the spatial patterns of precipitation isotopes and provide constraints on paleo-water isotope interpretation and modern isotope hydrological processes.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by Tianjin Municipal Education Commission (20080520) and JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship for Foreign Researchers (P11369) to Zhongfang, and NSFC grant (41105080) to Yanyu, U.S. National Science Foundation grants ESH 0080952 and DBI 0923571 to Welker, and U.S. National Science Foundation grant DBI 0743543 to Bowen. We also thank Prof. Sheridan for providing air mass frequency data calculated from Spatial Synoptic Classification system and Hang Zhou for his assistance in Monte Carlo analysis. We are grateful for the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers, which helped to considerably improve the quality of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Zhongfang Liu.

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Appendix

See Tables 1 and 2.

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Liu, Z., Bowen, G.J., Welker, J.M. et al. Winter precipitation isotope slopes of the contiguous USA and their relationship to the Pacific/North American (PNA) pattern. Clim Dyn 41, 403–420 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-012-1548-0

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Keywords

  • Precipitation isotope slope
  • Pacific/North American
  • Atmospheric circulation