Climate controls on rainfall isotopes and their effects on cave drip water and speleothem growth: the case of Molinos cave (Teruel, NE Spain)


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January 2014


The interpretation of stable isotopes in speleothems in terms of past temperature variability or precipitation rates requires a comprehensive understanding of the climatic factors and processes that influence the δ18O signal in the way through the atmosphere to the cave, where carbonate precipitates acquiring its final isotopic composition. This study presents for the first time in the Iberia Peninsula an integrated analysis of the isotopic composition of rainfall (δ18Op) during 2010–2012 years and, through a detailed monitoring survey, the transference of the primary isotopic signal throughout the soil and epikarst into the Molinos cave (Teruel, NE Spain). Both air temperature and amount of precipitation have an important effect on δ18Op values, clearly imprinting a seasonal variability modulated by an amount effect when rainfall events are more frequent or intense. Air mass history and atmospheric circulation influences are considered through the study of weather types, synoptic-scale climate patterns and large-scale atmospheric circulation indexes (North Atlantic Oscillation and Western Mediterranean Oscillation) revealing a dominant source effect on δ18Op values in this region where tropical North Atlantic and Western Mediterranean are the two moisture source regions. A delay of 2–3 months occurs between the dripwater oxygen isotopic composition (δ18Od) respect to δ18Op values as a consequence of large residence time in the epikarst. Limited calcite precipitates are found from winter to spring when δ18Od values are less negative and dripwater rates are constant. This study suggests that NE Iberian δ18Ocalcite proxy records are best interpreted as reflecting a combination of parameters, not just paleotemperature or paleorainfall and, if extending present-day situation towards the recent past, a biased signal towards winter values should be expected in Molinos speleothem records.

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Climate Dynamics, Vol. 43 (2014).