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Hydrological control of river and seawater lithium isotopes

Zhang, Fei and Dellinger, Mathieu and Hilton, Robert G. and Yu, Jimin and Allen, Mark B. and Densmore, Alexander L. and Sun, Hui and Jin, Zhangdong (2022) 'Hydrological control of river and seawater lithium isotopes.', Nature Communications, 13 (1).


Seawater lithium isotopes (δ7Li) record changes over Earth history, including a ∼9‰ increase during the Cenozoic interpreted as reflecting either a change in continental silicate weathering rate or weathering feedback strength, associated with tectonic uplift. However, mechanisms controlling the dissolved δ7Li remain debated. Here we report time-series δ7Li measurements from Tibetan and Pamir rivers, and combine them with published seasonal data, covering small (<102  km2) to large rivers (>106 km2). We find seasonal changes in δ7Li across all latitudes: dry seasons consistently have higher δ7Li than wet seasons, by −0.3‰ to 16.4‰ (mean 5.0 ± 2.5‰). A globally negative correlation between δ7Li and annual runoff reflects the hydrological intensity operating in catchments, regulating water residence time and δ7Li values. This hydrological control on δ7Li is consistent across climate events back to ~445 Ma. We propose that hydrological changes result in shifts in river δ7Li and urge reconsideration of its use to examine past weathering intensity and flux, opening a new window to reconstruct hydrological conditions.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:01 June 2022
Date deposited:19 July 2022
Date of first online publication:10 June 2022
Date first made open access:19 July 2022

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