Closing the data gap on stable isotopes in precipitation in the Mongolian desert

The stable isotopes in the river Bij and other water bodies in the Djungarian Gobi steppe are now available in the international isotope database. (Photo Martina Burnik Sturm, Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of the Bij river in Mongolia [Link 1]

Stable isotopes (atoms of the same element with the same number of protons but different number of neutrons in the nucleus, and thus with different masses) are powerful forensic recorders that can be linked to large scale patterns in the landscape (e.g. isotopes of strontium, sulfur, carbon and nitrogen) and hydrosphere (oxygen and hydrogen isotopes). Throughout an organism´s life, stable isotopes are incorporated into body tissues via consumed food and water. By analyzing these tissues, scienstists can consequently retrieve valuable information on where the studied organism lived, how it migrated and what it ate.

Over the last decade, global hydrogen and oxygen isotopic patterns of precipitation have increasingly been used in studies on animal migration, forensics, food authentication and traceability studies. However, records of the stable isotope composition of precipitation spanning one or more years are available for only a few hundred locations worldwide. Such data are used as a basis for modelling the global patterns of water isotopes in precipitation.   Data for Mongolia are especially scarce;  there were none at all for the Dzungarian Gobi until Martina Burnik Šturm and Petra Kaczensky from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and colleagues were able to close this gap by providing the first field-based data for this extremely arid environment on the hydrogen and oxygen isotope values of precipitation, as well as for rivers and various other water bodies.

Their results indicate a discrepancy between the modelled and measured field-based isotope values for precipitation in the study area and thus highlight the difficulty of modelling isotopic values for areas with such extreme climatic conditions.  The authors emphasize the importance of collecting long-term field based data. Results will be contributed to the "Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation [Link 2]"database, which serves as an indispensable repository of information for a range of scientific disciplines. The research article"First field-based observations of δ2H and δ18O values of event-based precipitation, rivers and other water bodies in the Dzungarian Gobi, SW Mongolia [Link 3]" by Martina Burnik Šturm, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, Christian C. Voigt, and Petra Kaczensky was published in the journal Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies [Link 4].

(Web editor, 14 October 2016)


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