The isotope hydrology of a large river system regulated for hydropower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Impoundments, regulation and inter-basin transfers associated with large hydropower developments affect runoff regimes, water residence times and stream water quality. We used stable isotopes to understand these effects on the river Tay system in Scotland, examining their spatial and temporal variation in surface waters at 22 sites. Spatial patterns of isotopes in stream water were consistent with those of precipitation, being more depleted in streams draining higher, colder northern headwaters and enriched in the milder western headwaters. To a lesser extent, spatial patterns also reflected effects of inter-basin and intra-basin water transfers at some sites. Temporal dynamics reflected precipitation inputs modulated by landscape properties, the presence of lakes and reservoirs, and regulation operations. Isotopic variability was highest in headwater tributaries with responsive soils and lowest downstream of lakes and reservoirs. Variability of isotopes in lower river sites was also damped as they integrate contributions from the rest of the catchment. Importantly, regulation from both reservoirs and inter-basin transfers can distort simple input-output relationships for stable isotopes and affect catchment transit times with implications for water quality and in-stream ecology. On the one hand, reservoirs and extension of natural lakes have created additional storage, potentially slowing flows; on the other, transfers have increased the volume and rates of water throughput in many of these water bodies, reducing hydraulic turnover times. Such effects tend to be quite localized and are not apparent at the larger catchment scale.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-349
Number of pages15
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number3
Early online date4 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015

Bibliographical note


Thanks to Iain Malcolm and staff at Marine Scotland, Freshwater Laboratory, who collected precipitation samples; Mike Kennedy, Laura Kruitbos and Scott McGrane who helped with the sampling trips; and Audrey Innes for help with the sample analysis. This work was supported by funding from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. The constructive comments by two reviewers helped to improve an earlier version of this paper and are gratefully acknowledged.


  • δ18O and δ2H isotopes
  • river regulation
  • residence times
  • scaling
  • large rivers
  • hydropower


Dive into the research topics of 'The isotope hydrology of a large river system regulated for hydropower'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this