Decadal-Scale Increases in Dissolved Carbon Flux from the Western Canadian Arctic to the Arctic Ocean

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Suzanne E Tank, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, Robert G Striegl, USGS WRD, Boulder, CO, United States, James W McClelland, University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Port Aransas, TX, United States and Steven V Kokelj, NWT Geosciences Office, Government of the Nothwest Territories, Yellowknife, NT, Canada
The chemical signature of large rivers has a clear effect on the chemistry and biology of the nearshore ocean. At the same time, the flux of riverine constituents to coastal environments can be used to understand changes occurring over broad terrestrial landscapes. This is particularly relevant in the Arctic, where rivers have a disproportionate impact on nearshore ocean function. Additionally, change is playing out rapidly in Arctic regions, as permafrost thaw and changes in temperature and hydrology are exposing previously frozen soils, changing the nature of hydrological linkages between land and water, and affecting the seasonality of riverine chemistry and flux. Here, we examine a 40-year dataset of point-measurement alkalinity (largely dissolved inorganic carbon) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, in addition to similar data from four of the Mackenzie’s major sub-catchments. These datasets are coupled with continuous discharge records, and capture flow from the fourth largest river discharging to the Arctic Ocean. Trends near the Mackenzie mouth show that annual fluxes of both alkalinity and DOC are increasing over time, with the proportional changes in DOC (approximately 16% per decade) being much greater than those for alkalinity (approximately 4% per decade). Seasonally, this increase in total flux occurs largely in the winter and late summer, for both constituents. Sub-catchment datasets indicate that these fluxes are increasing in northern, but not southern, sub-catchment regions. These results have clear implications for nearshore ocean function in the western Canadian Arctic. Increases in DOC may fuel increased bacterial metabolism, while differences in the magnitude of change in alkalinity and DOC flux may modify coastal aragonite saturation. Overall, the changing flux of dissolved carbon near the mouth of the Mackenzie River documents broad-scale changes in the carbon cycle of this region, both on land and in the nearshore ocean.