This site is under development by S.J.Birks, T.W.D. Edwards, J.J. Gibson, R. J. Drimmie, and F.A. Michel as an aid to the scientific research community. Data are currently being compiled and will be added as they become available. Please be advised that isotopic data, graphs and syntheses presented on this site are preliminary and should be used with caution. Comments and suggestions are welcome.


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This site was updated on 29 October, 2004.

Canada is a long-standing participant in the IAEA/WMO Global Network for Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP) program, aimed at documentation and understanding of the distribution of water isotope tracers (stable 18O and 2H, and radioactive 3H) in global precipitation.  Such data and knowledge about the natural isotopic labelling that occurs as a result of phase transitions in the hydrologic cycle are playing increasingly important roles in water and climate research, fostered in particular by the incorporation of isotope tracers into atmospheric general circulation models (GCMs) used to investigate global climate dynamics, and the need for new tools to supplement traditional hydrometric and hydrometeorological techniques in water resources analysis [1]. 

Composite monthly samples have been collected at Ottawa, Ontario, for more than 30 years, providing one of the longest continuous time-series records in the world of d18O, d2H, and 3H in precipitation at one site, making Ottawa a key North American reference station [2].  Collection at Ottawa has also been joined at intervals by sampling campaigns at individual stations or over limited networks, generally for the purposes of specific research projects.  Although many of these data are also incorporated into the GNIP database, knowledge about the distribution of water isotopes in precipitation in Canada remains patchy in both space and time, and ongoing observation and analysis are required to support current and future water and climate research. 

This situation was recognized and addressed in a workshop in Winter 1997 [3], leading to a cooperative venture between university and government researchers and the Meteorological Service of Canada (at that time the Atmospheric Environment Service), to work towards establishment of a dedicated Canadian Network for Isotopes in Precipitation - CNIP.  The first interim phase of CNIP was initiated in Spring 1997, through the adoption of precipitation sampling at selected stations from the Canadian Air and Precipitation Monitoring Network (CAPMoN), operated by MSC.  These new stations, distributed across southern Canada, were chosen to supplement Ottawa and a network of stations in the North that had been operating for several years as an initiative of Professor Fred Michel (Carleton University) and the Environmental Isotope Laboratory (University of Waterloo), in collaboration with on-site MSC personnel [4].

CNIP (Phase I) currently comprises 17 stations collecting monthly-composite samples, providing for the first time reasonably well-distributed spatial coverage for the entire country (see Fig. 1).  This interim configuration is planned to exist for several years, permitting sufficient ongoing analysis of accumulating data to discern fundamental linkages between the isotopic composition of precipitation and synoptic climatology and to aid in designing and optimizing a more permanent future network.

An important feature of CNIP is its function as an observational research network, producing data that are readily accessible and of immediate value.  It also provides a framework compatible with GNIP, within which other finer-resolution networks and sampling campaigns can be nested to address particular regional and local questions.  Present examples include extensive isotopic observations of precipitation, atmospheric moisture, and surface waters in the Mackenzie River Basin, as part of hydrologic studies within the Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX-MAGS), as well as daily precipitation sampling at three sites in eastern Canada (also shown on Fig. 1).

Links between CNIP and GNIP have also been strengthened recently through collaborative efforts between the University of Waterloo and the IAEA to summarize the state of knowledge of global and regional precipitation isotope fields, based on archived GNIP data.  The resulting GNIP Maps and Animations provide best-approximations of the mean annual "climatological" d18O, d2H and d-excess fields, and their respective annual cycles. (Note that this may work better via the side-bar link.)

All CNIP analyses are currently being conducted by the University of Waterloo Environmental Isotope Laboratory, which has had a long affiliation with the GNIP programme.  However, future plans call for sharing of analytical responsibility among a consortium of Canadian university and government laboratories, under the scientific direction of the CNIP Subcommittee of the Canadian Geophysical Union - Hydrology Section.

Figure 1:  Map showing the current station configuration of the Canadian Network for Isotopes in Precipitation (asterisks).  Also indicated are three stations collecting precipitation samples on a daily basis (crosses), and the Mackenzie River Basin, the focus of water balance and runoff generation studies using isotope tracers within the Mackenzie Basin GEWEX Study (MAGS) of the international Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment.


[1] Edwards, T.W.D., Birks, S.J., and Gibson, J.J. 2002. Isotope tracers in global water and climate studies of the past and present. International Conference on the Study of Environmental Change Using Isotope Techniques, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, April 2001, IAEA-CN-80/66. pdf file
[2] Rozanski,K.,Araguás-Araguás,L., and Gonfiantini, R. 1993. Isotopic patterns in modern precipitation. In Climate Change in Continental Isotopic Records. Edited by P.K. Swart, J. McKenzie, K.C. Lohmann, S. Savin. American Geophysical Union, Geophysical Monograph 78, Washington DC, 1-36.
[3] Workshop on Water and Climate Studies in Canada using Isotopic Tracers: Past, Present, Future. University of Waterloo, January 31-February 1, 1997.
[4] Moorman, B.J., Michel, F.A., and Drimmie, R.J. 1996. Isotopic variability in Arctic precipitation as a climatic indicator. Geoscience Canada 23, 189-194.


Special thanks to Caren Kusel and Ni Ni for their contributions toward development of this site.
This site is maintained by
Tom Edwards.

Waterloo ON N2L 3G1

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