, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 255-270

Stream dissolved organic matter bioavailability and composition in watersheds underlain with discontinuous permafrost

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Abstract

We examined the impact of permafrost on dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition in Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed (CPCRW), a watershed underlain with discontinuous permafrost, in interior Alaska. We analyzed long term data from watersheds underlain with varying degrees of permafrost, sampled springs and thermokarsts, used fluorescence spectroscopy, and measured the bioavailabity of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Permafrost driven patterns in hydrology and vegetation influenced DOM patterns in streams, with the stream draining the high permafrost watershed having higher DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations, higher DOC:DON and greater specific ultraviolet absorbance (SUVA) than the streams draining the low and medium permafrost watersheds. Streams, springs and thermokarsts exhibited a wide range of DOC and DON concentrations (1.5–37.5 mgC/L and 0.14–1.26 mgN/L, respectively), DOC:DON (7.1–42.8) and SUVA (1.5–4.7 L mgC−1 m−1). All sites had a high proportion of humic components, a low proportion of protein components, and a low fluorescence index value (1.3–1.4), generally consistent with terrestrially derived DOM. Principal component analysis revealed distinct groups in our fluorescence data determined by diagenetic processing and DOM source. The proportion of bioavailable DOC ranged from 2 to 35%, with the proportion of tyrosine- and tryptophan-like fluorophores in the DOM being a major predictor of DOC loss (p < 0.05, R 2 = 0.99). Our results indicate that the degradation of permafrost in CPCRW will result in a decrease in DOC and DON concentrations, a decline in DOC:DON, and a reduction in SUVA, possibly accompanied by a change in the proportion of bioavailable DOC.