Thumbnail Image

Increasing freshwater and dissolved organic carbon flows to Northwest Alaska's Elson lagoon

Manifestations of climate change in the Arctic are numerous and include hydrological cycle intensification and permafrost thaw, both expected as a result of atmospheric and surface warming. Across the terrestrial Arctic dissolved organic carbon (DOC) entrained in arctic rivers may be providing a carbon subsidy to coastal food webs. Yet, data from field sampling is too often of limited duration to confidently ascertain impacts of climate change on freshwater and DOC flows to coastal waters. This study applies numerical modeling to investigate trends in freshwater and DOC exports from land to Elson Lagoon in Northwest Alaska over the period 1981–2020. While the modeling approach has limitations, the results point to significant increases in freshwater and DOC exports to the lagoon over the past four decades. The model simulation reveals significant increases in surface, subsurface (suprapermafrost), and total freshwater exports. Significant increases are also noted in surface and subsurface DOC production and export, influenced by warming soils and associated active-layer thickening. The largest changes in subsurface components are noted in September, which has experienced a ∼50% increase in DOC export emanating from suprapermafrost flow. Direct coastal suprapermafrost freshwater and DOC exports in late summer more than doubled between the first and last five years of the simulation period, with a large anomaly in September 2019 representing a more than fourfold increase over September direct coastal export during the early 1980s. These trends highlight the need for dedicated measurement programs that will enable improved understanding of climate change impacts on coastal zone processes in this data sparse region of Northwest Alaska.
UMass Amherst Open Access Policy
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Publisher Version
Embedded videos