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Science Nation: Water Isotopes Leave Fingerprints For Climate Scientists

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. A man wears a hardhat.

[explosion]

Going up.

(Describer) ...in a small elevator.

(male narrator) Way up. From this 1,000 foot tower, University of Colorado meteorologist David Noone is perfectly perched. It's a cloudy day, and he's hoping for rain.

(Noone) The measurements I'm making on the tower allow us to establish a profile of the water vapor composition. We're at the top of the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, Noone is working to understand how water moves around earth.

(Noone) One aspect of understanding the water cycle is associated with water resource management. Another side is thinking about the implications of the water cycle on regional and global climate.

(narrator) Noone says water isotopes from different parts of the globe are like fingerprints. Another analogy: different colors.

(Describer) With dyed water...

If we were to have some water here in Colorado that was a combination of water from the Gulf of Mexico

(Describer) Yellow.

and water from the Pacific,

(Describer) He adds blue water, making green.

we can see that our water is some combination of these two. This is a climate model simulation showing the total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

(Describer) An animated map.

(narrator) Noone uses computer models and field observations from around the globe to study the chemical composition of rain and snow. With water isotopes, you might say, "What goes around comes around."

(Noone) The ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet has information about past climate that's pertinent to the North Atlantic, including North America and Europe. This lets us understand how the climate system behaves in this part of the world.

(Describer) He speaks to a class.

...and come together. Where does the water come from?

(narrator) These young scientists send Noone a steady stream of rainwater samples.

(Noone) We are doing a detailed investigation of water cycle processes in Colorado. Water is a big concern here. Students help us collect data we need. If precipitation patterns change, the amount of available water changes, and how we distribute those resources would also change.

(narrator) Understanding how water cycles through the earth atmosphere system can help us manage it more effectively and help prepare for climate change. Now, that's a tall order.

(Describer) A globe turns by the title.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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At the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower, a team of scientists analyzes the isotope composition of water vapor and precipitation. The isotopes provide information about the source region of the water. The scientists can determine the extent to which rainwater comes directly from the ocean, evaporation, or plant transpiration.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12