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Temporal Variation in Stable Isotopic Composition of Rainfall and Groundwater in a Tropical Dry Forest in the Northeastern Caribbean

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  • 1 Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • | 2 Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, and Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • | 3 Department of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida
  • | 4 Department of Physics, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
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Abstract

Karst topography links rainfall to groundwater recharge; therefore, possible changes in the hydrology can play an important role in ecosystem function especially in tropical dry forests where water is the most limiting resource. This study investigates the temporal variation in isotopic composition (δ18O and δD values) of rainwater and groundwater in the Guánica Dry Forest of southwestern Puerto Rico. The study not only establishes a dataset of oxygen and hydrogen isotopic composition of rainwater to assist in local ecohydrological studies but also establishes the origin of rainfall in the semiarid region of the island. The geographical position of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean causes the study site to receive marine air masses from the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. This research documents the monthly to annual variability in stable isotopic composition of rainwater and estimates the source of groundwater recharge in the Guánica Dry Forest.

To calculate the local meteoric water line (LMWL), the authors analyzed the isotopic signatures of rainwater, collected at near-monthly intervals from January 2008 to December 2011. The LMWL (δD = 7.79δ18O + 10.85) is close to the global meteoric water line (δD = 8.17δ18O + 11.27). Isotopic signatures of rainwater for the Guánica Dry Forest are consistent with southeastern Caribbean, where rainfall is of marine origin with an annual cycle contributed by sea surface temperature (SST) and significant intermonthly fluctuations due to rainfall and winds during tropical weather events. The d-excess values in the period of data collection (2008–11) respond to the rainfall–evaporation balance, with little seasonal cycle and strong pulsing events. Comparison of rain and groundwater isotopic compositions in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) Guánica Dry Forest indicates that groundwater recharge is confined to rainfall events of more than 90 mm. Imbalances between rainfall and drought place cumulative stresses on ecosystems where plants and animals synchronize their growth phenology and reproduction to climatic patterns, especially in areas with variable annual cycles. Therefore, it is useful in ecohydrological studies to determine the origins and temporal dynamics of rainfall and groundwater recharge in the Caribbean, where predictions of climate models indicate drying trends.

Corresponding author address: Y. Govender, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico, P.O. Box 70377, San Juan, PR 00936-8377. E-mail address: yoganig@gmail.com

Abstract

Karst topography links rainfall to groundwater recharge; therefore, possible changes in the hydrology can play an important role in ecosystem function especially in tropical dry forests where water is the most limiting resource. This study investigates the temporal variation in isotopic composition (δ18O and δD values) of rainwater and groundwater in the Guánica Dry Forest of southwestern Puerto Rico. The study not only establishes a dataset of oxygen and hydrogen isotopic composition of rainwater to assist in local ecohydrological studies but also establishes the origin of rainfall in the semiarid region of the island. The geographical position of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean causes the study site to receive marine air masses from the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. This research documents the monthly to annual variability in stable isotopic composition of rainwater and estimates the source of groundwater recharge in the Guánica Dry Forest.

To calculate the local meteoric water line (LMWL), the authors analyzed the isotopic signatures of rainwater, collected at near-monthly intervals from January 2008 to December 2011. The LMWL (δD = 7.79δ18O + 10.85) is close to the global meteoric water line (δD = 8.17δ18O + 11.27). Isotopic signatures of rainwater for the Guánica Dry Forest are consistent with southeastern Caribbean, where rainfall is of marine origin with an annual cycle contributed by sea surface temperature (SST) and significant intermonthly fluctuations due to rainfall and winds during tropical weather events. The d-excess values in the period of data collection (2008–11) respond to the rainfall–evaporation balance, with little seasonal cycle and strong pulsing events. Comparison of rain and groundwater isotopic compositions in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) Guánica Dry Forest indicates that groundwater recharge is confined to rainfall events of more than 90 mm. Imbalances between rainfall and drought place cumulative stresses on ecosystems where plants and animals synchronize their growth phenology and reproduction to climatic patterns, especially in areas with variable annual cycles. Therefore, it is useful in ecohydrological studies to determine the origins and temporal dynamics of rainfall and groundwater recharge in the Caribbean, where predictions of climate models indicate drying trends.

Corresponding author address: Y. Govender, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico, P.O. Box 70377, San Juan, PR 00936-8377. E-mail address: yoganig@gmail.com
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