Using stable isotopes to estimate young water fractions in a heavily regulated, tropical lowland river basin

A.D. Trinh (Corresponding author), T.N. Do, V.N. Panizzo, S. McGowan, M.J. Leng

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The young water fraction of streamflow (Fyw), an important hydrological variable, has been calculated for the first time, for a monsoon-fed coastal catchment in northern Vietnam. Oxygen stable isotopes (δ18O) from six river sites in the Day River Basin (DRB) were analysed monthly, between January 2015 and December 2018. River δ18O signatures showed sine wave variability, reflecting the amount effect and tropical (dry-rainy) seasonality of the region. The δ18O composition of precipitation ranged from −12.67 to +1.68‰, with a mean value of −5.14‰, and in-streamflow signatures ranged from −11.63 to −1.37‰ with a mean of −5.02‰. Fractions of young water (Fyw) were calculated from the unweighted and flow-weighted δ18O composition of samples. Unweighted Fyw ranged between 29 ± 8% and 82 ± 21% with a mean value of 51 ± 19%, and was not significantly different from flow-weighted Fyw (range between 33 ± 25% and 92 ± 73%, mean 52 ± 36%). Both unweighted and flow-weighted Fyw were highest in the middle of stream and lowest in downstream sites, capturing the impacts of landuse changes, hydrology and human activities in the catchment. Our calculations imply that more than a half of rainwater reaches the DRB river mainstream within the first 3 months. The Fyw is much higher than the global average (of one-third) and insensitive to discharge due to the combination of a humid catchment with high rainfall, low storage capacity, flat landscape and an intensive drainage system in the DRB. Also the low discharge sensitivity of Fyw in the DRB implies that the regional hydrology is severely altered by humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4239-4250
Number of pages12
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Day River
  • discharge sensitivity
  • sine wave fitting
  • Vietnam
  • water isotopes


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