Multi-decadal increases in dissolved organic carbon and alkalinity flux from the Mackenzie drainage basin to the Arctic Ocean

Environmental Research Letters
By: , and 

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Abstract

Riverine exports of organic and inorganic carbon (OC, IC) to oceans are intricately linked to processes occurring on land. Across high latitudes, thawing permafrost, alteration of hydrologic flow paths, and changes in vegetation may all affect this flux, with subsequent implications for regional and global carbon (C) budgets. Using a unique, multi-decadal dataset of continuous discharge coupled with water chemistry measurements for the Mackenzie River, we show major increases in dissolved OC (DOC) and IC (as alkalinity) fluxes since the early 1970s, for a watershed that covers 1.8 M km2 of northwestern Canada, and provides substantial inputs of freshwater and biogeochemical constituents to the Arctic Ocean. Over a 39-year period of record, DOC flux at the Mackenzie mouth increased by 39.3% (44.5 ± 22.6 Gmol), while alkalinity flux increased by 12.5% (61.5 ± 60.1 Gmol). Isotopic analyses and substantial increases in sulfate flux indicate that increases in alkalinity are driven by accelerating sulfide oxidation, a process that liberates IC from rock and soils in the absence of CO2 consumption. Seasonal and sub-catchment trends suggest that permafrost thaw plays an important role in the observed increases in DOC and alkalinity: sub-catchment increases for all constituents are confined to northern, permafrost-affected regions, while observed increases in autumn to winter are consistent with documented landscape-scale changes that have resulted from changing thaw dynamics. This increase in DOC and sulfide-derived alkalinity represents a substantial intensification of land-to-ocean C mobilization, at a level that is significant within the regional C budget. The change we observe, for example, is similar to current and projected future rates of CO2 consumption by weathering in the Mackenzie basin.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Multi-decadal increases in dissolved organic carbon and alkalinity flux from the Mackenzie drainage basin to the Arctic Ocean
Series title Environmental Research Letters
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/11/5/054015
Volume 11
Issue 5
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher IOP Science
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description Article 054015; 10 p.
First page 1
Last page 10