Isotopic evolution and climate paleorecords: Modeling boundary effects in groundwater-dominated lakes

Mark D Shapley, Emi Ito, Joseph J. Donovan

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30 Scopus citations


We used an isotopic mass-balance model to examine how the hydrogeologic setting of lakes influences isotopic response of evaporating lake water to idealized hydroclimatic changes. The model uses a monthly water and isotope balance approach with simplified water-column structure and groundwater exchanges. The framework for comparative simulations is provided by lakes in a region of the Northern Rocky Mountains that display high interlake geochemical variability, thought to be controlled by groundwater hydraulics. Our analysis highlights several isotopic effects of flow between aquifers and lakes, leading to possible divergence of isotopic paleorecords formed under a common climate. Amplitude of isotopic variation resulting from simulated climate forcing was greatly damped when high groundwater fluxes and/or low lake volume resulted in low lake fluid residence time. Differing precipitation and evaporation scenarios that are equivalent in annual fluid balance (P-E) resulted in different isotopic signatures, interpreted as a result of evaporation kinetics. Concentrating low-δ groundwater inflow during spring months raised springtime lake δ values, a counterintuitive result of coincidence between times of high groundwater inflow and the evaporation season. Transient effects of reduced fluid balance caused excursions opposite in sign from eventual steady-state isotopic shifts resulting from enhanced groundwater inflow dominance. Lags in response between climate forcing and isotopic signals were shortened by high groundwater fluxes and resulting short lake residence times. Groundwater-lake exchange exerts control over patterns of lake isotopic response to evaporation through effects on lake residence time, inflow composition, and seasonal timing of inflow and outflow. Sediments from groundwater-linked lakes, often used for paleoenvironmental analysis, should be expected to reflect isotopic complexities of the type shown here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-33
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements M.D.S. wishes to thank Lensyl Urbano for unfailingly generous assistance with ExcelTM modeling applications. M.D.S. was supported in this work by University of Minnesota Department of Geology and Geophysics GeoFluids (NSF) and GAANN (U.S. Department of Education) fellowships. Invaluable support was also provided by the Minnesota Stable Isotope Lab and the Limnological Research Center LacCore Facility and their staffs. David Gosselin and Daniel Ariztegui provided helpful reviews resulting in an improved manuscript. This is LRC Contribution 07-1.


  • Climate
  • Evaporative evolution
  • Groundwater
  • Isotope hydrology
  • Isotope modeling
  • Lakes
  • Montana
  • Ovando Valley
  • Oxygen isotopes


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