Understanding the role of fog in forest hydrology: stable isotopes as tools for determining input and partitioning of cloud water in montane forests


  • This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

  • This paper is largely reproduced from a chapter previously published as M.A. Scholl, W. Eugster and R. Burkard (2010). Understanding the role of fog in forest hydrology: stable isotopes as tools for determining input and partitioning of cloud water in montane forests. In Tropical Montane Cloud Forests. Science for Conservation and Management, eds. L.A. Bruijnzeel, F.N. Scatena and L.S. Hamilton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 228-241. www.cambridge.org/9780521760355.


Understanding the hydrology of tropical montane cloud forests (TMCF) has become essential as deforestation of mountain areas proceeds at an increased rate worldwide. Passive and active cloud-water collectors, throughfall and stemflow collectors, visibility or droplet size measurements, and micrometeorological sensors are typically used to measure the fog water inputs to ecosystems. In addition, stable isotopes may be used as a natural tracer for fog and rain. Previous studies have shown that the isotopic signature of fog tends to be more enriched in the heavier isotopes 2H and 18O than that of rain, due to differences in condensation temperature and history. Differences between fog and rain isotopes are largest when rain is from synoptic-scale storms, and fog or orographic cloud water is generated locally. Smaller isotopic differences have been observed between rain and fog on mountains with orographic clouds, but only a few studies have been conducted. Quantifying fog deposition using isotope methods is more difficult in forests receiving mixed precipitation, because of limitations in the ability of sampling equipment to separate fog from rain, and because fog and rain may, under some conditions, have similar isotopic composition. This article describes the various types of fog most relevant to montane cloud forests and the importance of fog water deposition in the hydrologic budget. A brief overview of isotope hydrology provides the background needed to understand isotope applications in cloud forests. A summary of previous work explains isotopic differences between rain and fog in different environments, and how monitoring the isotopic signature of surface water, soil water and tree xylem water can yield estimates of the contribution of fog water to streamflow, groundwater recharge and transpiration. Next, instrumentation to measure fog and rain, and methods to determine isotopic concentrations in plant and soil water are discussed. The article concludes with the identification of some of the more pressing research questions in this field and offers various suggestions for future research. Published in 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.