Changes in Dissolved Carbon and Nitrogen Concentrations Along a Hill Slope Flow Path in Siberian Arctic Tundra

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Julian Theberge, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, United States, John D Schade, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, United States, Greg J Fiske, Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA, United States, Michael M Loranty, Colgate University, Geography, Hamilton, NY, United States and Nikita Zimov, Northeast Scientific Station, Cherskiy, Russia
Permafrost soils contain a large pool of carbon that has accumulated for thousands of years, and remains frozen in organic form. As climate warms, permafrost thaw will lead to active cycling of old organic materials, possibly leading to release of carbon to the atmosphere or to export of organic carbon to the oceans. Organic matter breakdown may also release reactive forms of nitrogen, which may significantly impact ecosystem processes. We currently have limited understanding of where in Arctic landscapes breakdown of organic materials will occur, or whether this will influence the strength and direction of feedback loops that may occur in response to changes in C and N cycling. In this work, we studied changes in dissolved forms of C and N in water moving down a hillslope linking upland terrestrial environments to lowland floodplains within the Kolyma River watershed in the East Siberian Arctic tundra in July, 2014. The hill slope consisted of a mosaic of dry and saturated soils, generally with drier soils on the periphery and saturated soils in and around pools or short reaches of flowing surface water. We established transects at regular intervals downslope, installing wells in the center of the flow path and 5 meters laterally north and south. We analyzed pore-water from wells and surface water from pools at each transect for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and total dissolved nitrogen (TDN). We used patterns in water chemistry to develop a conceptual model for biogeochemical changes as water moved downslope through soils, pools and runs. Pore-water analysis showed significantly higher DOC in lateral wells than in surface water and pore water in the center of the flow path, suggesting possible processing of C as water moves laterally towards the valley bottom. In contrast, DOC increased modestly down the center of the flow path, suggesting either higher hydrologic inputs or production of new DOC downslope. TDN concentration decreased downslope, suggesting processing by microbes or uptake by grasses which dominated the valley bottom. Together these patterns suggest N limitated microbial processes or plant production, which may increase organic C export to downstream ecosystems. If general, this pattern would have significant implications for future climate feedbacks from C released as permafrost thaws.