Estuarine Nitrogen Dynamics Along the Alaskan Beaufort Sea Coast: Seasonal Patterns and Potential Climate Change Effects

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 5:15 PM
James W McClelland1, Tara L Connelly1, Byron C Crump2, Colleen Kellogg3 and Kenneth H Dunton1, (1)University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Port Aransas, TX, United States, (2)Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States, (3)University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Seasonal runoff and sea-ice cover create highly dynamic estuarine conditions in the Arctic. Studies focusing on major systems such as the Mackenzie have demonstrated how these variables interact to influence nutrient supply and uptake dynamics. Far less is known about the seasonality of smaller estuarine systems in the Arctic. Data collected from lagoons along the eastern Alaska Beaufort Sea coast show that salinities range from near zero in the spring to as high as 50 in the winter. Runoff and sea-ice thaw in the spring create highly stratified conditions, with hyper-saline bottom waters persisting through the summer in some locations. These variations in physical conditions are accompanied by variations in nitrogen availability within the lagoons. High concentrations of ammonium, and to a lesser extent nitrate, build up under the ice during the winter months. These nutrients are rapidly depleted during the ice break-up period and remain low throughout the summer. Concentrations of organic nitrogen, on the other hand, peak during the ice break-up period. While river inputs contribute directly to this nitrogen peak through the supply of land-derived organic matter, fatty acid markers also show that locally produced organic matter (primarily diatoms) peaks during the ice break-up period. Seasonal changes in nitrogen are accompanied by distinct shifts in microbial community composition as well as changes in stable isotope values of metazoan consumers. Changes in climate that are altering both runoff and sea-ice have the potential to influence the quantity and timing of nutrient availability and associated biological production in arctic coastal waters.