Scientific References

Peer Reviewed Literature: Stable Isotope Analysis of Precipitation Samples Obtained via Crowdsourcing Reveals the Spatiotemporal Evolution of Superstorm Sandy

Presented at
PLoS ONE, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091117

Abstract

Extra-tropical cyclones, such as 2012 Superstorm Sandy, pose a significant climatic threat to the northeastern United Sates, yet prediction of hydrologic and thermodynamic processes within such systems is complicated by their interaction with mid-latitude water patterns as they move poleward. Fortunately, the evolution of these systems is also recorded in the stable isotope ratios of storm-associated precipitation and water vapor, and isotopic analysis provides constraints on difficult-to-observe cyclone dynamics. During Superstorm Sandy, a unique crowdsourced approach enabled 685 precipitation samples to be obtained for oxygen and hydrogen isotopic analysis, constituting the largest isotopic sampling of a synoptic-scale system to date. Isotopically, these waters span an enormous range of values (21‰ for δ18O, > 160‰ for δ2H) and exhibit strong spatiotemporal structure. Low isotope ratios occurred predominantly in the west and south quadrants of the storm, indicating robust isotopic distillation that tracked the intensity of the storm's warm core. Elevated values of deuterium-excess (>25‰) were found primarily in the New England region after Sandy made landfall. Isotope mass balance calculations and Lagrangian back-trajectory analysis suggest that these samples reflect the moistening of dry continental air entrained from a mid-latitude trough. These results demonstrate the power of rapid-response isotope monitoring to elucidate the structure and dynamics of water cycling within synoptic-scale systems and improve our understanding of storm evolution, hydroclimatological impacts, and paleo-storm proxies.