Skip to main content

Watershed Glacier Coverage Influences Dissolved Organic Matter Biogeochemistry in Coastal Watersheds of Southeast Alaska

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6

References

  1. Agren A, Buffam I, Berggren M, Bishop K, Jansson M, Laudon H. 2008. DOC characteristics in boreal streams in a forest-wetland gradient during the transition between winter and summer. J Geophys Res 113:G03031. doi:10.1029/2007JG000674.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Anesio AM, Hodson AJ, Fritz A, Psenner R, Sattler B. 2009. High microbial activity on glaciers: importance to the global carbon cycle. Glob Change Biol 15:955–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Baker A, Spencer RGM. 2004. Characterization of dissolved organic matter from source to sea using fluorescence and absorbance spectroscopy. Sci Total Environ 333:217–32.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Barker JD, Sharp MJ, Fitzsimons SJ, Turner RJ. 2006. Abundance and dynamics of dissolved organic carbon in glacier systems. Arct Antarct Alp Res 38(2):163–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Barker JD, Sharp MJ, Turner RJ. 2009. Using synchronous fluorescence spectroscopy and principal components analysis to monitor dissolved organic matter dynamics in a glacier system. Hydrol Process 23(10):1487–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Barry RG. 2006. The status of research on glaciers and global glacier recession: a review. Prog Phys Geogr 30:285–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Battin TJ, Luyssaert S, Kaplan LA, Aufdenkampe AK, Richter A, Tranvik LJ. 2009. The boundless carbon cycle. Nat Geosci 2:598–600.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Berggren M, Strom L, Laudon H, Karlsson J, Jonsson A, Giesler R, Bergstrom AK, Jansson M. 2010. Lake secondary production fueled by rapid transfer of low molecular weight organic carbon from terrestrial sources to aquatic consumers. Ecol Lett 13:1870–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Berthier E, Schiefer E, Clarke GKC, Menounos B, Remy F. 2010. Contribution of Alaskan glaciers to sea-level rise derived from satellite imagers. Nat Geosci 3:92–5.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bhatia MP, Das SB, Longnecker K, Charette MA, Kujawinski EB. 2010. Molecular characterization of dissolved organic matter associated with the Greenland ice sheet. Geochem Cosmochim Acta 74:3768–84.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bhatia MP, Xu L, Charette MA, Wadham JL, Kujawinski EB. 2013. Organic carbon export from the Greenland ice sheet. Geochem Cosmochim Acta 109:329–44.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Blaen PJ, Hannah DM, Brown LE, Milner AM. 2012. Water temperature dynamics in high arctic river basins. Hydrol Process. doi:10.1002/hyp.9431.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Bradley RS, Vuille M, Diaz HF, Vergara W. 2006. Threats to water supplies in the tropical Andes. Science 312:1755–6.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Brown LE, Hannah DM, Milner AM. 2006. Hydroclimatological influences on water column and streambed thermal dynamics in an alpine river system. J Hydrol 325:1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Chaloner DT, Lamberti GA, Merritt RW, Mitchell NL, Ostrom PH, Wipfli MS. 2004. Variation in responses to spawning salmon among three SE Alaska streams. Fresh Biol 49:587–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Cole JJ, Prairie YT, Caraco NF, McDowell WH, Tranvik LJ, Striegl RG, Duarte CM, Kortelainen P, Downing JA, Middelburg JJ, Melack J. 2007. Plumbing the global carbon cycle: integrating inland waters into the terrestrial carbon budget. Ecosystems 10:171–84.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cole JJ, Carpenter SR, Kitchell J, Pace ML, Solomon CT, Weidel B. 2011. Strong evidence for terrestrial support of zooplankton in small lakes based on stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(5):1975–80.

    CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Cory RM, McKnight DM. 2005. Fluorescence spectroscopy reveals ubiquitous presence of oxidized and reduced quinones in DOM. Environ Sci Technol 39:8142–9.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Cory RM, McKnight DM, Chin YP, Miller P, Jaros CL. 2007. Chemical characteristics of fulvic acids from Arctic surface waters: microbial contributions and photochemical transformations. J Geophys Res 112:G04S51. doi:10.1029/2006JG000343.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Dansgaard W. 1964. Stable isotopes in precipitation. Tellus 16:436–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. D’Amore DV, Fellman JB, Edwards RT, Hood E, Ping CL. 2012. Hydropedology of the North American Coastal Temperate Rainforest. In: Lin H, Ed. Hydropedology: synergistic integration of soil science and hydrology. Waltham: Academic Press. p 351–80.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  22. Dorava JM, Milner AM. 2000. Role of lake regulation on glacier-fed rivers in enhancing salmon productivity: the Cook Inlet, south-central Alaska, USA. Hydrol Process 14:3149–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dubnick A, Barker J, Sharp M, Wadham J, Lis G, Telling J, Fitzsimons S, Jackson M. 2010. Characterization of dissolved organic matter (DOM) from glacial environments using total fluorescence spectroscopy and parallel factor analysis. Ann Glaciol 51(56):111–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Dyurgerov MB, Meier MF. 2000. Twentieth century climate change: evidence from small glaciers. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97(4):1406–11.

    CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Eigenvector Research Inc. 2006. Version 3.7, Eigenvector Research Inc., Wenatchee, WA.

  26. Engstrom DR, Fritz SC, Almendinger JE, Juggins S. 2000. Chemical and biological trends during lake evolution in recently deglaciated terrain. Nature 408:161–6.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Fellman JB, Hood E, Edwards RT, D’Amore DV. 2008. Return of salmon-derived nutrients from the riparian zone to the stream during a storm in southeast Alaska. Ecosystems 11:537–44.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Fellman JB, Hood E, D’Amore DV, Edwards RT, White D. 2009. Seasonal changes in the chemical quality and biodegradability of dissolved organic matter exported from soils to streams in coastal temperature watersheds. Biogeochemistry 95:277–93.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Fellman JB, Nagorski S, Pyare S, Vermilyea AW, Scott D, Hood E. 2014. Stream temperature response to variable glacier coverage in coastal watersheds of Southeast Alaska. Hydrol Process 28:2062–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Findlay S, Pace ML, Lints D, Howe K. 1992. Bacterial metabolism of organic carbon in the tidal freshwater Hudson Estuary. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 89:147–53.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Fleming SW, Clarke GKC. 2003. Glacial control of water resource and related environmental responses to climatic warming: empirical analysis using historical streamflow data from northwestern Canada. Can Water Resour J 28:69–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Fleming SW, Clarke GKC. 2005. Attenuation of high-frequency interannual streamflow variability by watershed glacial cover. J Hydraul Eng 131(7):615–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Fountain AG, Tangborn WV. 1985. The effect of glaciers on streamflow variations. Water Resour Res 21(4):579–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Gondar D, Lopez R, Fiol S, Antelo JM, Arce F. 2005. Characterization and acid-base properties of fulvic and humic acids isolated from two horizons of an ombrotrophic peat bog. Geoderma 126:367–74.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Green SA, Blough NV. 1994. Optical absorption and fluorescence properties of chromophoric dissolved organic matter in natural waters. Limnol Oceanogr 39:1903–16.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Hedges JI, Mayorga E, Tsamakis E, McClain ME, Aufdenkampe A, Quay P, Richey JE, Benner R, Opsahl S, Black B, Pimentel T, Quintanilla J, Maurice L. 2000. Organic matter in Bolivian tributaries of the Amazon River: a comparison to the lower main stream. Limnol Oceanogr 45:1449–66.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Hood E, Scott D. 2008. Riverine organic matter and nutrients in southeast Alaska affected by glacial coverage. Nat Geosci 1:583–6.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Hood E, Berner L. 2009. Effects of changing glacial coverage on the physical and biogeochemical properties of coastal streams in southeastern Alaska. J Geophys Res 114:G03001. doi:10.1029/2009JG000971.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Hood E, Fellman JB, Edwards RT. 2007. Salmon influences on dissolved organic matter in a coastal temperate brownwater stream: an application of fluorescence spectroscopy. Limnol Oceanogr 52(4):1580–1587.

  40. Hood E, Fellman JB, Spencer RGM, Hernes PJ, Edwards RT, D’Amore DV, Scott D. 2009. Glaciers as a source of ancient and labile organic matter to the marine environment. Nature 262:1044–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Jacobsen D, Milner AM, Brown LE, Dangles O. 2012. Biodiversity under threat in glacier-fed river systems. Nat Clim Change 2:361–4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Jaffe R, McKnight DM, Maie N, Cory RM, McDowell WH, Campbell JL. 2008. Spatial and temporal variations in DOM composition in ecosystems: the importance of long-term monitoring of optical properties. J Geophys Res 113:G04032. doi:10.1029/2008JG000683.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Lafreniere M, Sharp MJ. 2004. The concentration and spectrofluorometric properties of DOC from glacial and non-glacial catchments. Arctic Antarct Alp Res 36:156–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Larsen CF, Motyka RJ, Arendt AA, Echelmeyer KA, Geissler PE. 2007. Glacier changes in southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia and contribution to sea level rise. J Geophys Res 112:F01007. doi:10.1029/2006JF000586.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Mark BG, McKenzie JM. 2007. Tracing increasing tropical Andean glacier melt with stable isotopes in water. Environ Sci Technol 41:6955–60.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Milner AM, Fastie CL, Chapin FSIII, Engstrom DR, Sharman LC. 2007. Interactions and linkages among ecosystems during landscape evolution. Bioscience 57:237–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Mitchell NL, Lamberti GA. 2005. Responses in dissolved nutrients and epilithon abundance to spawning salmon in southeast Alaska streams. Limnol Oceanogr 50:217–27.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Neal EG, Hood E, Smikrud K. 2010. Contribution of glacier runoff to freshwater discharge into the Gulf of Alaska. Geophys Res Lett 37:L06404. doi:10.1029/2010GL042385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Paul D, Skrzypek G, Forizs I. 2007. Normalization of measured stable isotope composition to isotope reference scale: a review. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 21:3006–14.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Radic V, Hock R. 2011. Regionally differentiated contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to future sea-level rise. Nat Geosci 4:91–4.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Rietti-Shati M, Yam R, Karlen W, Shemesh A. 2000. Stable isotope composition of tropical high-altitude fresh-waters on Mt. Kenya, Equatorial East Africa. Chem Geol 166:341–50.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Runkel RL, Crawford CG, Cohn TA. 2004. Load Estimator (LOADEST): A FORTRAN program for estimating constituent loads in streams and rivers, U. S. Geol. Surv. Tech. Methods, Book 4, Chap. A5, 69 pp.

  53. Singer GA, Fasching C, Wilhelm L, Niggemann J, Steier P, Dittmar T, Battin TJ. 2012. Biogeochemically diverse organic matter in alpine glaciers and its downstream fate. Nat Geosci 5:710–14.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Spencer RGM, Aiken GR, Wickland KP, Striegl RG, Hernes PJ. 2008. Seasonal and spatial variability in dissolved organic matter quantity and composition from the Yukon River basin, Alaska. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 22:GB4002. doi:10.1029/2008GB003231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Stahl K, Moore RD. 2006. Influence of watershed glacier coverage on summer streamflow in British Columbia, Canada. Water Resour Res 42:W06201. doi:10.1029/2006WR005022.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Stahl K, Moore RD, Shea JM, Hutchinson D, Cannon AJ. 2008. Coupled modelling of glacier and streamflow response to future climate scenarios. Water Resour Res 44:W02422. doi:10.1029/2007WR005956.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Stedmon CA, Markager S, Bro R. 2003. Tracing DOM in aquatic environments using a new approach to fluorescence spectroscopy. Mar Chem 82:239–54.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Stedmon CA, Markager S. 2005. Resolving the variability in DOM fluorescence in a temperate estuary and its catchment using PARAFAC analysis. Limnol Oceanogr 50(2):686–97.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Stibal M, Tranter M, Benning LG, Rehak J. 2008. Microbial primary production on an Arctic glacier is insignificant in comparison with allochthonous organic carbon input. Environ Microbiol 10:2172–8.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Stibal M, Lawson EC, Lis GP, Mak KM, Wadham JL, Anesio AM. 2010. Organic matter content and quality in supraglacial debris across the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet. Ann Glaciol 51(56):1–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Stibal M, Sabacka M, Zarsky J. 2012. Biological processes on glacier and ice sheet surfaces. Nat Geosci 5:771–4.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Stubbins A, Dittmar T. 2012. Low volume quantification of dissolved organic carbon and dissolved nitrogen. Limonol Oceanogr Methods . doi:10.4319/lom.2012.10.347.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Stubbins A, Hood E, Raymond PA, Aiken GR, Sleighter RL, Hernes PJ, Butman D, Hatcher PG, Striegl RG, Schuster P, Abdulla HAN, Vermilyea AW, Scott DT, Spencer RGM. 2012. Anthropogenic aerosols as a source of ancient DOM in glaciers. Nat Geosci 5:198–201.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Tockner K, Malard F, Uehlinger U, Ward JV. 2002. Nutrients and organic matter in a glacier river-floodplain system (Val Roseg, Switzerland). Limnol Oceanogr 47(1):266–77.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Wickland KP, Neff JC, Aiken GR. 2007. DOC in Alaskan boreal forests: sources, chemical characteristics, and biodegradability. Ecosystems 10:1323–40.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jason B. Fellman.

Additional information

Author Contributions

All authors designed the study. JF and EH performed the research and analyzed the data. All authors assisted with data interpretation and manuscript preparation.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • glacier change
  • dissolved organic matter
  • stable isotopes
  • fluorescence characterization
  • fluvial systems
  • biogeochemistry