Variation of the stable isotopes of water in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum of a Cinnamomum camphora woodland in the East Asian monsoon region

Junjie Dai, Xinping Zhang, Zidong Luo, Rui Wang, Zhongli Liu, Xinguang He, Zhiguo Rao, Huade Guan

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The hydrogen and oxygen stable isotopic (2H and 18O) tracer method has become an important means of studying water transfer between the atmosphere, rivers and lakes, soils, plants, and aquifers. We conducted a study on the variations of the stable isotopes of water, and the seasonal variations in water use of Cinnamomum camphora, in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum in a C. camphora woodland in Changsha, central-southern China, which lies within the monsoon region of East Asia. Stable isotopes were monitored in precipitation, soil water (0–130-cm depth), groundwater, twig xylem water of C. camphora, and at the same time relevant environmental variables (soil water content, and meteorological variables) were measured, from March 2017 to August 2019. The monitoring data were collated and analyzed to determine the variations of stable isotopes in different water pools and mutual exchanges. The results indicate that daily precipitation (P) greater than 3.7 mm (regarded as effective precipitation) contributed to soil water replenishment. Isotopic composition of soil water and twig xylem water fell below the LMWLP>3.7 (the local meteoric water line eliminated rainfall events with P ≤ 3.7 mm). Isotopic composition of shallow soil water (0–60 cm) and twig xylem water was positively correlated with that of cumulative antecedent precipitation within two months. These patterns of precipitation isotopic signal propagation delineate a clear pathway of water transfer in this soil and plant continuum. The slope of the soil water line in the study area was higher than that of the LMWLP>3.7 because of the situation that precipitation in warm season with a larger evaporative demand is more depleted with heavy isotopes (i.e., more negative delta values) than that in cold season when the evaporative demand is low. Therefore, it was not feasible to determine the strength of isotopic fractionation based on the isotopic water line method. According to the MixSIR model, C. camphora water uptake mainly sourced from shallow soil water during the observation period. However, in July-September when soil was dry, deep soil water (60–130 cm) contributed to C. camphora water uptake for ~50%. These findings improve our understanding of the water cycle of the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum in the East Asian monsoon region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125199
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • East Asian monsoon region
  • Plant water sources
  • Precipitation
  • Soil water
  • Stable isotopes
  • Xylem water


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