Climate Processes Research Group

Large-scale dynamics, modeling, cycles of water and carbon, stable isotopes

Verbatum from front matter:
Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche
Laboratorio Di Geologia Nucleare - Pisa
Proceedings published by V. Lishi e F., Pisa

Proceedings volume is 337 pages.

Craig and Gordon (1965)

Craig, H., and L. I. Gordon (1965) Deuterium and oxygen 18 variations in the ocean and marine atmosphere. In proc. Stable Isotopes in Oceanographic Studies and Paleotemperatures, 1965, Spoleto, Italy. edited by E. Tongiogi, pp 9-130, V. Lishi e F., Pisa.

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Scanned from Sam Epstein's copy of the proceedings volume.
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The Spoleto Conferences in Nuclear geology were instituted by the Laboratory of Nuclear Geology at the University of Pisa, supported by the Italian national Council for Research, with the aim of bringing together international scientists working in rapidly developing research areas in this field. The first conference, in 1963, was devoted to geothermal problems; the second, in 1964, dealt with applications of nuclear studies to meteorology. This volume presents papers from the third conference, in 1965, which was concerned with the important problem of the measurements of paleotemperatures by isotopic analyses of the oxygen in fossils found in ancient rocks.

Since the development of the paleotemperature method by H. C. Urey and his associates at Chicago, investigations of this subject have spread into many allied fields. The isotopic composition of oxygen in calcium carbonate precipitated in shells depends not only on temperature but also on the oxygen isotope ratio in the water . this it has been necessary to develop an understanding of past and present variations of the isotopic composition of ocean water and such studies have become part of the field of oceanography. Carbon isotope studies have been useful in many instances for the understanding of oxygen isotope variation, and, in turn, have become of interest in biology. At the same time progress has been made in developing a temperature scale for phosphates for supplementing the carbonate geothermometer. All these developments, together with results of regional studies of fossils of past ages, were discussed at the 1965 conference.

As with the previous conferences, the generous assistance of the people of Poleto, and the exception beauty of the setting, contributed greatly to the success of this meeting.

Enzo Tongiorgi
Page 7

Deuterium and oxygen 18 variations in the ocean and the marine atmosphere

H. Craig and L. I. Gordon

Department of Earth Sciences and Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, La Jolla, California


This paper describes the experimental and theoretical results we have obtained in our study of the variations of the hydrogen and oxygen isotopic abundances in the sea and the atmosphere. The principal stable molecular species are present in the following proportions:

H2O16 1,000,000
HDO 320
H2O16 2000
These being the approximate molecular parts per million in the mean sea water. The varying proportions of these molecules in sea water provide an oceanographic tracer like salinity, but with an extra degree of freedom: salt is a tracer for ocean fluid, but the isotopic composition is a tracer specifically for the water component of the fluid. Of course if the molecules always occur in the same proportions relative to the salinity they would be no more useful then one of the elements comprising the .compound. we refer to as salinity. That this is not the case was shown in the first mass spectrometric investigations of these isotopes in the sea: the oxygen 18 study of Epstein and Mayeda (1953) and the deuterium study of Friedman (1953). In particular, Epstein and Mayeda observed that the oxygen-18/oxygen-16 ratio was different in regions of considerable melt water influx from the ration, for waters of the same salinity, in open ocean areas.

The emphasis in these first studies was on the range and nature of the isotopic variations rather than on interpretation in terms of the meteorological and oceanographic processes established by classical research; the importance of their work was the demonstration that the isotopic variations were sufficiently great to provide an excellent tracer for oceanographic and meteorological research. In the ocean for example, we can write three mixing equations in any particular application, for mass, salinity and enthalpy or temperature. Carbon 14 has added another variable, and Bolin and Stommel (1961) have used this isotope to form systems of four equations for the study of deep water genesis. However, the distribution of this isotope is at present not at all well understood, particularly in the southern oceans. Also the use of temperature as a variable requires a term for the enthalpy influx from the bottom into the deep water masses, and the carbon 14 concentrations in the surface an intermediate waters have been changing in an uncertain manner due to production of this isotope in nuclear tests. We are also studying the use of rare gases in sea water as oceanographic tracers, but the accurate measurement of these has concentrations is very difficult, as is shown by discrepancies between the results Mazor, Wasserburg, and Craig (1964) and those of Bieri, Koide and Goldberg (1964).

If we examine the precision of measurement of different tracers relative to the magnitude of the differences between deepwater masses, we find that temperature and salinity can be measured to about 1-2 percent of the differences, while the D/H and O18/O16 ratios can be measured to about 10 percent of the differences. Carbon 14 also falls in the 10 percent class, while the precision on rare gases at present would be about 30-40 percent. Considering the ease of measurement, the sample collection problems, and analytical equipment required, and the size of the ocean and the amount of work involved in synoptic studies, we believe the hydrogen and oxygen isotopes offer the best possibility for development as a routine oceanographic tool which can be used by a number of institutions. This is not to say that the work is anywhere as easy as the routine measurements of temperature and salinity, which the oceanographers have developed to a very high order of precision and dependability; a sizable investment of time and highly trained technicians are required in order to get the necessary precision for isotopic measurements. Despite this drawback, they offer a promising method for oceanographic studies; the hydrogen and oxygen isotopes are the variables most intimately related to the actual water in the sea, and they furnish a direct link to the water in the atmosphere and on the continents, and to the evaporation and precipitation cycle which causes the salinity variations.

In our work to date we have concentrated principally on the oxygen 18 variations because of the direct relationship to the paleotemperature studies which require a knowledge of the oxygen isotope variations in the sea in space and time. Out work on deuterium to date has been principally on understanding the ocean-atmosphere exchange of water and we shall discuss both isotopic species in this context.

The latter half of this paper, dealing with the evaporation exchange theory, was presented in detail at the 1964 Spoleto Conference on Isotopic Variation in Natural Waters. It is published in this volume with the oceanic work in order to provide a single paper on our studies in the ocean-atmosphere isotope effects.

Some figures: