, Volume 111, Issue 1–3, pp 443–454 | Cite as

Long-term analysis of Hubbard Brook stable oxygen isotope ratios of streamwater and precipitation sulfate

  • Gretchen R. Miles
  • Myron J. Mitchell
  • Bernhard Mayer
  • Gene Likens
  • Jeffrey Welker


In response to decreasing atmospheric emissions of sulfur (S) since the 1970s there has been a concomitant decrease in S deposition to watersheds in the Northeastern U.S. Previous study at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH (USA) using chemical and isotopic analyzes (\( \delta^{34} {\text{S}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \)) combined with modeling has suggested that there is an internal source of S within these watersheds that results in a net loss of S via sulfate in drainage waters. The current study expands these previous investigations by the utilization of δ18O analyzes of precipitation sulfate and streamwater sulfate. Archived stream and bulk precipitation samples at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest from 1968–2004 were analyzed for stable oxygen isotope ratios of sulfate (\( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \)). Overall decreasing temporal trends and seasonally low winter values of \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \) in bulk precipitation are most likely attributed to similar trends in precipitation \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{H}}_{2} {\text{O}}}} \) values. Regional climate trends and changes in temperature control precipitation \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{H}}_{2} {\text{O}}}} \) values that are reflected in the \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \) values of precipitation. The significant relationship between ambient temperature and the \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{H}}_{2} {\text{O}}}} \) values of precipitation is shown from a nearby site in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). Although streamwater \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \) values did not reveal temporal trends, a large difference between precipitation and streamwater \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \) values suggest the importance of internal cycling of S especially through the large organic S pool and the concomitant effect on the \( \delta^{18} {\text{O}}_{{{\text{SO}}_{4} }} \) values in drainage waters.


Acid rain Hubbard Brook Precipitation S cycling Stable oxygen isotope ratio (δ18O) of sulfate Streamwater 



Acid neutralizing capacity


Clean air act of 1970


Clean air act amendments of 1977 and 1990


Canadian network for isotopes in precipitation


Global network of isotopes in precipitation


Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest


International atomic energy agency


Isotope hydrology information system


Online isotopes in precipitation calculator


Bulk precipitation/deposition


U.S. geological survey




Water isotope system for data analysis visualization and electronic retrieval



This research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, including the LTER and LTREB programs. It would not have been possible without the long-term, archived samples, and the time and effort put forth by many researchers within the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study. The study and dedication of the SUNY-ESF Biogeochemistry Laboratory and the University of Calgary Isotope Science Laboratory is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gretchen R. Miles
    • 1
  • Myron J. Mitchell
    • 1
  • Bernhard Mayer
    • 2
  • Gene Likens
    • 3
  • Jeffrey Welker
    • 4
  1. 1.State University of New York College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeoscienceUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  3. 3.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  4. 4.Environment and Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of Alaska AnchorageAnchorageUSA

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