Evolution of the stable water isotopic composition of the rain sampled along Sahelian squall lines


  • This article was published online on 28 September, 2009. An error was subsequently identified. This notice is included in the online and print versions to indicate that both have been corrected 18 January 2010.


In the Tropics, the stable isotopic composition (HDO, Hequation imageO) of precipitation is strongly modulated by convective activity. To better understand how convective processes impact the precipitation isotopic composition, we analyze the isotopic composition of rain collected during the passage of four squall lines over the Sahel (Niamey, Niger) in August 2006 during the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA) campaign. The high-frequency sampling (5−10 min) of the precipitation allows us to investigate the evolution of the precipitation isotopic composition in different phases of the squall lines. Despite a large variability among the different squall lines, some robust isotopic features appear: the W shape of the δ18O evolution and the deuterium excess decrease in the first part of the stratiform zone. To understand more quantitatively how convective processes impact the precipitation isotopic composition, a simple stationary two-dimensional transport model including a representation of cloud microphysics and isotopic fractionation is developed and forced by three-dimensional winds retrieved from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) radar on 11 August 2006. The model reproduces the robust observed features and a large sensitivity to the squall-line dynamics. This model suggests that the main controlling factors of the isotopic evolution are (1) squall-line dynamics, especially the downward advection of air at the rear of the squall lines, affecting the vapour composition and, by isotopic equilibration, the subsequent precipitation composition and (2) rain re-evaporation. This suggests that water isotopes have the potential to better constrain squall-line dynamics and rain re-evaporation, and to evaluate the representation of convective processes in numerical models. Copyright © 2009 Royal Meteorological Society