Isotopic evolution of saline lakes in the low-latitude and polar regions

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Isotopic fractionations associated with two primary processes (evaporation and freezing of water) are discussed, which are responsible for the formation and evolution of saline lakes in deserts from both low-latitude and the Polar regions. In an evaporative system, atmospheric parameters (humidity and isotopic composition of water vapor) have strong influence on the isotopic behavior of saline lakes, and in a freezing system, salinity build-up largely controls the extent of freezing and associated isotope fractionation. In both systems, salinity has a direct impact on the isotopic evolution of saline lakes. It is proposed that a steady-state "terminal lake" model with short-term hydrologic and environmental perturbations can serve as a useful framework for investigating both evaporative and freezing processes of perennial saline lakes. Through re-assessment of own work and literature data for saline lakes, it was demonstrated that effective uses of the isotope activity compositions of brines and salinity-chemistry data could reveal dynamic changes and evolution in the isotopic compositions of saline lakes in response to hydrologic and environmental changes. The residence time of isotopic water molecules in lakes determines the nature of responses in the isotopic compositions following perturbations in the water and isotope balances (e.g., dilution by inflow, water deficit by increased evaporation, and/or reduction in inflow). The isotopic profiles of some saline lakes from the Polar regions show that they switched the two contrasting modes of operation between evaporative and freezing systems, in response to climate and hydrological changes in the past.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-69
Number of pages27
JournalAquatic Geochemistry
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Antarctica
  • Arctic
  • Evaporation
  • Freezing
  • Isotopic compositions
  • Low-latitude
  • Perturbations
  • Saline lakes
  • Steady-state


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