Floodplain Organic Carbon Storage in the Central Yukon River Basin

Friday, 19 December 2014
Katherine Lininger, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States and Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University, Geosciences, Fort Collins, CO, United States
Floodplain storage of organic carbon is an important aspect of the global carbon cycle that is not well understood or quantified. Although it is understood that rivers transport organic carbon to the ocean, little is known about the quantity of stored carbon in boreal floodplains and the influence of fluvial processes on this storage. We present results on total organic carbon (TOC) content within the floodplains of two rivers, the Dall River and Preacher Creek, in the central Yukon River Basin in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska. The results indicate that organic carbon storage is influenced by fluvial disturbance and grain size. The Dall River, which contains a large amount of floodplain carbon, is meandering and incised, with well-developed floodplain soils, a greater percentage of relatively old floodplain surfaces and a slower floodplain turnover time, and finer grain sizes. Preacher Creek stores less TOC, transports coarser grain sizes, and has higher rates of avulsion and floodplain turnover time. Within the floodplain of a particular river, large spatial heterogeneity in TOC content also exists as a function of depositional environment and age and vegetation community of the site. In addition, saturated regions of the floodplains, such as abandoned channels and oxbow lakes, contain more TOC compared to drier floodplain environments. Frozen alluvial soils likely contain carbon that could be released into the environment with melting permafrost, and thus quantifying the organic carbon content in the active layer of floodplain soils could provide insight into the characteristics of the permafrost beneath. The hydrology in these regions is changing due to permafrost melt, and floodplain areas usually saturated could be dried out, causing breakdown and outgassing of carbon stored in previously saturated soils. Ongoing work will result in a first-order estimate of active-layer floodplain carbon storage for the central Yukon River Basin.