Deciphering key processes controlling rainfall isotopic variability during extreme tropical cyclones

Ricardo Sánchez-Murillo*, Ana M. Durán-Quesada, Germain Esquivel-Hernández, Daniela Rojas-Cantillano, Christian Birkel, Kristen Welsh, Minerva Sánchez-Llull, Carlos M. Alonso-Hernández, Doerthe Tetzlaff, Chris Soulsby, Jan Boll, Naoyuki Kurita, Kim M. Cobb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)
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The Mesoamerican and Caribbean (MAC) region is characterized by tropical cyclones (TCs), strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation events, and climate variability that bring unique hazards to socio-ecological systems. Here we report the first characterization of the isotopic evolution of a TC (Hurricane Otto, 2016) in the MAC region. We use long-term daily rainfall isotopes from Costa Rica and event-based sampling of Hurricanes Irma and Maria (2017), to underpin the dynamical drivers of TC isotope ratios. During Hurricane Otto, rainfall exhibited a large isotopic range, comparable to the annual isotopic cycle. As Hurricane Otto organized into a Category 3, rapid isotopic depletion coupled with a decrease in d-excess indicates efficient isotopic fractionation within ~200 km SW of the warm core. Our results shed light on key processes governing rainfall isotope ratios in the MAC region during continental and maritime TC tracks, with applications to the interpretation of paleo-hydroclimate across the tropics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4321
Number of pages10
JournalNature Communications
Early online date20 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

This study was supported by International Atomic Energy Agency grant CRP-19747 to R.S.M. under the pan-tropical initiative “Stable isotopes in precipitation and paleoclimatic archives in tropical areas to improve regional hydrological and climatic impact models”. Analytical instrumental support from the IAEA Technical Cooperation Project (COS7005: Ensuring water security and sustainability of Costa Rica) is also acknowledged. Support from the Research Office of the Universidad Nacional of Costa Rica through grants SIA-0482–13, SIA-0378–14, and SIA-0101–14 was also fundamental. We thank various helping hands that contributed to rainfall sampling during Hurricanes Otto, Irma, and Maria, particularly to the personnel of the Estación Biológica 28 Millas (Bataan, Costa Rica), Cerro Dantas Refuge (Heredia, Costa Rica), Centro de Estudios Ambientales de Cienfuegos (Cienfuegos, Cuba), and the School of Chemistry at the University of The Bahamas (Nassau, The Bahamas). Support from the Isotope Network for Tropical Ecosystem Studies (ISONet) funded by the University of Costa Rica Research Council is also acknowledged.


  • Atmospheric Chemistry
  • Climate Sciences
  • Hydrology
  • Natural Hazards


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