Investigating stable isotope effects and moisture trajectories for rainfall events in Johannesburg, South Africa

Keywords: stable isotope effects, deuterium excess, HYSPLIT, rainfall moisture sources, Johannesburg, South Africa


This study investigated the isotopic composition of daily rainfall in Johannesburg from November 2016 to October 2018. The moisture sources and trajectories for rainfall events of extreme isotopic signatures were deduced using the Hybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory model (HYSPLIT). The results from time series and regression analysis show temperature and amount effects, with low coefficient of determination (R2) values of 0.21 and 0.12, respectively. The rainfall with amounts of <20 mm yielded a meteoric water line (MWL) with a slope of +6.9 and deuterium excess (d-excess) of +11.9‰. Rainfall with amounts of ≥20 mm had slope and d-excess values of +8.2 and +18.6‰, respectively. The lower slope in rainfall of <20 mm indicated the preferential occurrence of sub-cloud re-evaporation on light rainfall. Considering the lack of re-evaporation in heavy rainfall (≥20 mm), its slope and d-excess were approximated to those of incoming or in-cloud moisture prior to condensation. Therefore, a high d-excess of +18.6‰ in incoming moisture indicates evaporation that mainly occurs under warm sea surface temperature and low relative humidity. HYSPLIT shows that the moisture for the most depleted and the most enriched rainfall originates in the higher latitudes but differs in trajectory. The moisture for the most depleted rainfall had long residence in the higher latitudes following a semi-direct trajectory to Johannesburg, over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The most enriched rainfall followed a curved anticlockwise trajectory with long residence in the lower latitudes over the Indian Ocean. Circulation of saturated moisture over the warm Indian Ocean leads to a loss of light isotopes, thereby enhancing enrichment in the moisture that moves further inland. HYSPLIT indicated the importance of atmospheric conditions along the moisture trajectory on the signature of Johannesburg rainfall.

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