Climate change is intensifying the Arctic hydrologic cycle, potentially accelerating the release of carbon and nutrients from permafrost landscapes to rivers. However, there are limited riverine flow and solute data of adequate frequency and duration to test how seasonality and catchment landscape characteristics influence production and transport of carbon and nutrients in Arctic river networks. We measured high frequency hydrochemical dynamics at the outlets of three headwater catchments in Arctic Alaska over 3 years. The catchments represent common Arctic landscapes: low‐gradient tundra, low‐gradient and lake‐influenced tundra, and high‐gradient alpine tundra. Using in‐situ spectrophotometers, we measured dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrate (NO3−) concentrations at 15‐min intervals through the flow seasons of 2017, 2018, and 2019. These high‐frequency data allowed us to quantify concentration–discharge (C‐Q) responses during individual storm events across the flow season. Differences in C‐Q responses among catchments indicated strong landscape and seasonal controls on lateral DOC and NO3−flux. For the two low‐gradient tundra catchments, we observed consistent DOC enrichment (transport‐limitation) and NO3−dilution (source‐limitation) during flow events. Conversely, we found consistent NO3−enrichment and DOC dilution in the high‐gradient alpine catchment. Our analysis revealed how high flow events may contribute disproportionately to downstream export in these Arctic streams. Because the duration of the flow season is expected to lengthen and the intensity of Arctic storms are expected to increase, understanding how discharge and solute concentration are coupled is crucial to understanding carbon and nutrient dynamics in rapidly changing permafrost ecosystems.
Riverine fluxes of carbon and inorganic nutrients are increasing in virtually all large permafrost-affected rivers, indicating major shifts in Arctic landscapes. However, it is currently difficult to identify what is causing these changes in nutrient processing and flux because most long-term records of Arctic river chemistry are from small, headwater catchments draining <200 km2or from large rivers draining >100,000 km2. The interactions of nutrient sources and sinks across these scales are what ultimately control solute flux to the Arctic Ocean. In this context, we performed spatially-distributed sampling of 120 subcatchments nested within three Arctic watersheds spanning alpine, tundra, and glacial-lake landscapes in Alaska. We found that the dominant spatial scales controlling organic carbon and major nutrient concentrations was 3–30 km2, indicating a continuum of diffuse and discrete sourcing and processing dynamics. These patterns were consistent seasonally, suggesting that relatively fine-scale landscape patches drive solute generation in this region of the Arctic. These network-scale empirical frameworks could guide and benchmark future Earth system models seeking to represent lateral and longitudinal solute transport in rapidly changing Arctic landscapes.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
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- Nature Publishing Group
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- Scientific Reports
- Medium: X
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- National Science Foundation
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