Evaporation fractionation in a peatland drainage network affects stream water isotope composition

Matthias Sprenger, Doerthe Tetzlaff, Claire Tunaley, Jonathan Dick, Chris Soulsby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


There is increasing interest in improving understanding of evaporation within a catchment for an enhanced representation of dominant processes in hydrological models. We used a dual-isotope approach within a nested experimental design in a boreal catchment in the Scottish Highlands (Bruntland Burn) to quantify the spatio-temporal dynamics of evaporation fractionation in a peatland drainage network and its effect on stream water isotopes. We conducted spatially distributed water sampling within the saturated peatland under different wetness conditions. We used the lc-excess – which describes the offset of a water sample from the local meteoric water line in the dual-isotope space - to understand the development of kinetic fractionation during runoff in a peatland network. The evaporation fractionation signal correlated positively with the potential evapotranspiration and negatively with the discharge. The variability of the isotopic enrichment within the peatland drainage network was higher with higher potential evapotranspiration and lower with higher discharge. We found an increased evaporation fractionation towards the center of the peatland, while groundwater seepage from minerogenic soils influenced the isotopic signal at the edge of the peatland. The evaporation signal was imprinted on the stream water, as the discharge from a peatland dominated sub-catchment showed a more intense deviation from the local meteoric water line than the discharge from the Bruntland Burn. The findings underline that evaporation fractionation within peatland drainage networks affects the isotopic signal of headwater catchments, which questions the common assumption in hydrological modelling that the isotopic composition of stream waters did not undergo fractionation processes. This article is protected by copyright.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)851-866
Number of pages16
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number1
Early online date15 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the European Research Council (ERC, project GA 335910 VeWa) and Natural Environment Research Council NERC (project NE/K000268/1) for funding. We also want to thank Dr. Christian Birkel for the initial spatial distributed surveys of the tracers. The data is available from the corresponding author upon request. We thank the Associate editor and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback during the peer-review process.


  • Catchment
  • Wetlands
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Overland flow
  • Stable isotopes


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaporation fractionation in a peatland drainage network affects stream water isotope composition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this