Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 77–96 | Cite as

Regional environmental change versus local signal preservation in Holocene thermokarst lake sediments: A case study from Herschel Island, Yukon (Canada)

  • Michael FritzEmail author
  • Ingmar Unkel
  • Josefine Lenz
  • Konrad Gajewski
  • Peter Frenzel
  • Nathalie Paquette
  • Hugues Lantuit
  • Lisa Körte
  • Sebastian Wetterich
Original paper


Thermokarst lakes cover nearly one fourth of ice-rich permafrost lowlands in the Arctic. Sediments from an athalassic subsaline thermokarst lake on Herschel Island (69°36′N; 139°04′W, Canadian Arctic) were used to understand regional changes in climate and in sediment transport, hydrology, nutrient availability and permafrost disturbance. The sediment record spans the last ~ 11,700 years and the basal date is in good agreement with the Holocene onset of thermokarst initiation in the region. Electrical conductivity in pore water continuously decreases, thus indicating desalinization and continuous increase of lake size and water level. The inc/coh ratio of XRF scans provides a high-resolution organic-carbon proxy which correlates with TOC measurements. XRF-derived Mn/Fe ratios indicate aerobic versus anaerobic conditions which moderate the preservation potential of organic matter in lake sediments. The coexistence of marine, brackish and freshwater ostracods and foraminifera is explained by (1) oligohaline to mesohaline water chemistry of the past lake and (2) redeposition of Pleistocene specimens found within upthrusted marine sediments around the lake. Episodes of catchment disturbance are identified when calcareous fossils and allochthonous material were transported into the lake by thermokarst processes such as active-layer detachments, slumping and erosion of ice-rich shores. The pollen record does not show major variations and the pollen-based climate record does not match well with other summer air temperature reconstructions from this region. Local vegetation patterns in small catchments are strongly linked to morphology and sub-surface permafrost conditions rather than to climate. Multidisciplinary studies can identify the onset and life cycle of thermokarst lakes as they play a crucial role in Arctic freshwater ecosystems and in the global carbon cycle of the past, present and future.


Arctic Permafrost Athalassic subsaline lake XRF scanning Pore-water hydrochemistry Ostracoda 



We wish to express our thanks to the Yukon Territorial Government and the Yukon Parks (Herschel Island Qiqiktaruk Territorial Park). The authors acknowledge the support of the Aurora Research Institute (ARI, Inuvik) for the field component. This study was partly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF Grant No. CAN 09/001, 01DM12002), the German Science Foundation (DFG Grant No. LA 2399/3-1), the Helmholtz Association (Grant No. VH-NG-801), a dissertation stipend by the Potsdam University and a fellowship by the Association for Canadian Studies awarded to JL, and by a fellowship awarded to MF by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) (Grant No. 20008/953) and the Daimler and Benz Foundation (Grant No. 32-02/15). KG and NP were supported by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The study contributes to the Arctic Ecological Network (Arc-EcoNet) funded by the BMBF (Grant No. 01DJ14003). Field support was provided by Boris Radosavljevic, Gerald Müller, Gregory De Pascale, and Samuel McLeod. Analytical support was provided by Lutz Schirrmeister (AWI) for modern marine ostracods, by Antje Eulenburg (AWI) with hydrochemical analyses and by Volker Wennrich and Sonja Berg (University of Cologne, Germany) with XRF scanning.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Periglacial ResearchAlfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine ResearchPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Ecosystem ResearchChristian-Albrechts-Universität zu KielKielGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  4. 4.Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, Department of Geography, Environment and GeomaticsUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  5. 5.Institute of Earth SciencesFriedrich Schiller University of JenaJenaGermany

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