Basin-Scale Exports vs. Coastal Delivery of Carbon, Nutrients and Particulates Above and Below Arctic River Deltas

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Robert G Striegl1, Suzanne E Tank2, Gayla Weeks2, Robert Max Holmes3 and James W McClelland4, (1)USGS WRD, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (3)Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA, United States, (4)University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Port Aransas, TX, United States
Recent studies have substantially improved our understanding of water, sediment and materials exports by arctic rivers. Seasonality of exports, particularly during the spring freshet, is better quantified, as are the inland sources of water and sediment discharge and the source and chemical character of other material exports, including carbon and nutrients. Measurements on small rivers discharging directly to the Arctic Ocean and lacking complex deltas can accurately quantify local inputs to coastal regions. However, the majority of hydrologic inputs to the Arctic Ocean derive from 6 major Eurasian and North American rivers. Water, sediment, and chemical exports from these rivers are typically measured above head of tide, far inland, and commonly above large river deltas. These deltas settle particles and provide favorable environments for deposition, storage, and biogeochemical consumption, production, and transformation of aquatic carbon and nutrients. Consequently, basin exports measured above river deltas likely misrepresent actual delivery to coastal regions. In addition to accumulating sediment, observed and modeled arctic delta effects include enrichment of the organic content of suspended solids, increased dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen (DOC; DON) concentration, decreased inorganic nutrient concentration, and settling and likely increased bioavailability of particle associated contaminants, such as mercury. Increased DOC concentration in the Mackenzie River delta has also been associated with a change in DOC quality, with increased potential for biodegradation of DOC and decreased potential for photodegradation of DOC from head of tide to within the delta. For the most part, assessments of differences between head of tide basin exports and coastal delivery tend to be qualitative rather than quantitative, largely because of difficulties quantifying tidally affected flow. This points to the need to resolve data gaps, improve quantitative assessments, and advance our understanding of arctic river inputs to coastal environments. We use examples from the Yukon and Mackenzie River deltas in USA and Canada to illustrate those needs.