Contrasts in dissolved, particulate, and sedimentary organic carbon from the Kolyma River to the East Siberian Shelf

Dirk Jong*, Lisa Bröder, Tommaso Tesi, Kirsi H. Keskitalo, Nikita Zimov, Anna Davydova, Philip Pika, Negar Haghipour, Timothy I. Eglinton, Jorien E. Vonk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Arctic rivers will be increasingly affected by the hydrological and biogeochemical consequences of thawing permafrost. During transport, permafrost-derived organic carbon (OC) can either accumulate in floodplain and shelf sediments or be degraded into greenhouse gases prior to final burial. Thus, the net impact of permafrost OC on climate will ultimately depend on the interplay of complex processes that occur along the source-to-sink system. Here, we focus on the Kolyma River, the largest watershed completely underlain by continuous permafrost, and marine sediments of the East Siberian Sea, as a transect to investigate the fate of permafrost OC along the land-ocean continuum. Three pools of riverine OC were investigated for the Kolyma main stem and five of its tributaries: dissolved OC (DOC), suspended particulate OC (POC), and riverbed sediment OC (SOC). They were compared with earlier findings in marine sediments. Carbon isotopes (δ13C, Δ14C), lignin phenol, and lipid biomarker proxies show a contrasting composition and degradation state of these different carbon pools. Dual C isotope source apportionment calculations imply that old permafrost-OC is mostly associated with sediments (SOC; contribution of 68±10%), and less dominant in POC (38±8%), whereas autochthonous primary production contributes around 44±10% to POC in the main stem and up to 79±11 % in tributaries. Biomarker degradation indices suggest that Kolyma DOC might be relatively degraded, regardless of its generally young age shown by previous studies. In contrast, SOC shows the lowest Δ14C value (oldest OC), yet relatively fresh compositional signatures. Furthermore, decreasing mineral surface area-normalised OC- and biomarker loadings suggest that SOC might be reactive along the land-ocean continuum and almost all parameters were subjected to rapid change when moving from freshwater to the marine environment. This suggests that sedimentary dynamics play a crucial role when targeting permafrost-derived OC in aquatic systems and support earlier studies highlighting the fact that the land-ocean transition zone is an efficient reactor and a dynamic environment. The prevailing inconsistencies between freshwater and marine research (i.e. targeting predominantly DOC and SOC respectively) need to be better aligned in order to determine to what degree thawed permafrost OC may be destined for long-term burial, thereby attenuating further global warming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-294
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes

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