The ability to detect hydrologic variation in large arctic river systems is of major importance in understanding and predicting effects of climate change in high-latitude environments. Monitoring uranium isotopes (234U and 238U) in river water of the Yukon River Basin of Alaska and northwestern Canada (2001–2005) has enhanced the ability to identify water sources to rivers, as well as detect flow changes that have occurred over the 5-year study. Uranium isotopic data for the Yukon River and major tributaries (the Porcupine and Tanana rivers) identify several sources that contribute to river flow, including: deep groundwater, seasonally frozen river-valley alluvium groundwater, and high-elevation glacial melt water. The main-stem Yukon River exhibits patterns of uranium isotopic variation at several locations that reflect input from ice melt and shallow groundwater in the spring, as well as a multi-year pattern of increased variability in timing and relative amount of water supplied from higher elevations within the basin. Results of this study demonstrate both the utility of uranium isotopes in revealing sources of water in large river systems and of incorporating uranium isotope analysis in long-term monitoring of arctic river systems that attempt to assess the effects of climate change.
Additional publication details
Uranium isotopes (U-234/U-238) in rivers of the Yukon Basin (Alaska and Canada) as an aid in identifying water sources, with implications for monitoring hydrologic change in arctic regions