The Coast Mountains of southeast Alaska are currently experiencing some of the highest rates of glacier volume loss on Earth, with unknown implications for proglacial stream biogeochemistry. We analyzed streamwater for δ18O and dissolved organic matter (DOM) biogeochemistry (concentration, δ13C-dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and fluorescence characterization) during the 2012 glacial runoff season from three coastal watersheds in southeast Alaska that ranged in glacier coverage from 0 to 49% and a glacier outflow stream. Our goal was to assess how DOM biogeochemistry may change as receding glaciers are replaced by forests and glaciers contribute less meltwater to streamflow. Discharge and streamwater δ18O varied seasonally reflecting varying contributions of rainfall and snow/icemelt to streamflow over the runoff season. Mean DOC concentrations were lowest in the glacial outflow and highest in the non-glacial stream reflecting an increasing contribution of vascular plant-derived carbon with decreasing watershed glaciation. Fluorescence and δ13C-DOC signatures indicated that DOM shifted from vascular plant-derived, humic-like material in the non-glacial stream toward more δ13C-DOC enriched, glacier-derived DOM in the glacial outflow. Streamwater δ18O was significantly correlated to DOC concentration, δ13C-DOC, and protein-like fluorescence of streamwater DOM (all P < 0.05), demonstrating that changes in the source of streamwater across the glacial watershed continuum have important implications for the amount and quality of stream DOM export. Overall, our findings show that continued glacial recession and subsequent changes in glacial runoff could substantially influence the biogeochemistry of coastal temperature watersheds by altering the timing, magnitude, and chemical signature of DOM delivered to streams.
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We thank Kaitlynne Romero and Jennifer Shinn for field assistance, Sanjay Pyare for map preparation, and Jarrod Sowa with the ADF&G for streamflow data in Cowee Creek. This study was supported by the Department of Interior Alaska Climate Science Center and the US National Science Foundation (EAR 0838587/0943599 and DEB 1146161/1145932).
All authors designed the study. JF and EH performed the research and analyzed the data. All authors assisted with data interpretation and manuscript preparation.
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Fellman, J.B., Hood, E., Spencer, R.G.M. et al. Watershed Glacier Coverage Influences Dissolved Organic Matter Biogeochemistry in Coastal Watersheds of Southeast Alaska. Ecosystems 17, 1014–1025 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-014-9777-1
- glacier change
- dissolved organic matter
- stable isotopes
- fluorescence characterization
- fluvial systems