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  1. Abstract

    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 NO3flux. For the two low‐gradient tundra catchments, we observed consistent DOC enrichment (transport‐limitation) and NO3dilution (source‐limitation) during flow events. Conversely, we found consistent NO3enrichment 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.

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  2. Abstract

    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.

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  3. Abstract

    Climate change is creating widespread ecosystem disturbance across the permafrost zone, including a rapid increase in the extent and severity of tundra wildfire. The expansion of this previously rare disturbance has unknown consequences for lateral nutrient flux from terrestrial to aquatic environments. Lateral loss of nutrients could reduce carbon uptake and slow recovery of already nutrient‐limited tundra ecosystems. To investigate the effects of tundra wildfire on lateral nutrient export, we analyzed water chemistry in and around the 10‐year‐old  Anaktuvuk River fire scar in northern Alaska. We collected water samples from 21 burned and 21 unburned watersheds during snowmelt, at peak growing season, and after plant senescence in 2017 and 2018. After a decade of ecosystem recovery, aboveground biomass had recovered in burned watersheds, but overall carbon and nitrogen remained ~20% lower, and the active layer remained ~10% deeper. Despite lower organic matter stocks, dissolved organic nutrients were substantially elevated in burned watersheds, with higher flow‐weighted concentrations of organic carbon (25% higher), organic nitrogen (59% higher), organic phosphorus (65% higher), and organic sulfur (47% higher). Geochemical proxies indicated greater interaction with mineral soils in watersheds with surface subsidence, but optical analysis and isotopes suggested that recent plant growth, not mineral soil, was the main source of organic nutrients in burned watersheds. Burned and unburned watersheds had similar δ15N‐NO3, indicating that exported nitrogen was of preburn origin (i.e., not recently fixed). Lateral nitrogen flux from burned watersheds was 2‐ to 10‐fold higher than rates of background nitrogen fixation and atmospheric deposition estimated in this area. These findings indicate that wildfire in Arctic tundra can destabilize nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur previously stored in permafrost via plant uptake and leaching. This plant‐mediated nutrient loss could exacerbate terrestrial nutrient limitation after disturbance or serve as an important nutrient release mechanism during succession.

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  4. Abstract. Repeated sampling of spatially distributed riverchemistry can be used to assess the location, scale, and persistence ofcarbon and nutrient contributions to watershed exports. Here, we provide acomprehensive set of water chemistry measurements and ecohydrologicalmetrics describing the biogeochemical conditions of permafrost-affectedArctic watersheds. These data were collected in watershed-wide synopticcampaigns in six stream networks across northern Alaska. Three watershedsare associated with the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research site at ToolikField Station (TFS), which were sampled seasonally each June and August from2016 to 2018. Three watersheds were associated with the National ParkService (NPS) of Alaska and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and weresampled annually from 2015 to 2019. Extensive water chemistrycharacterization included carbon species, dissolved nutrients, and majorions. The objective of the sampling designs and data acquisition was tocharacterize terrestrial–aquatic linkages and processing of material instream networks. The data allow estimation of novel ecohydrological metricsthat describe the dominant location, scale, and overall persistence ofecosystem processes in continuous permafrost. These metrics are (1)subcatchment leverage, (2) variance collapse, and (3) spatial persistence.Raw data are available at the National Park Service Integrated Resource Management Applications portal (O'Donnell et al., 2021, and within the Environmental Data Initiative (Abbott, 2021, 
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