Degrading permafrost river catchments and their impact on Arctic Ocean nearshore processes

Paul Mann*, Jens Strauss, Juri Palmtag, Kelsey Dowdy, Olga Ogneva, Matthias Fuchs, Michael Bedington, Ricardo Torres, Luca Polimene, Paul Overduin, Gesine Mollenhauer, Guido Grosse, Volker Rachold, William V. Sobczak, Robert G. M. Spencer, Bennet Juhls

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
56 Downloads (Pure)


Arctic warming is causing ancient perennially frozen ground (permafrost) to thaw, resulting in ground collapse, and reshaping of landscapes. This threatens Arctic peoples' infrastructure, cultural sites, and land-based natural resources. Terrestrial permafrost thaw and ongoing intensification of hydrological cycles also enhance the amount and alter the type of organic carbon (OC) delivered from land to Arctic nearshore environments. These changes may affect coastal processes, food web dynamics and marine resources on which many traditional ways of life rely. Here, we examine how future projected increases in runoff and permafrost thaw from two permafrost-dominated Siberian watersheds - the Kolyma and Lena, may alter carbon turnover rates and OC distributions through river networks. We demonstrate that the unique composition of terrestrial permafrost-derived OC can cause significant increases to aquatic carbon degradation rates (20 to 60% faster rates with 1% permafrost OC). We compile results on aquatic OC degradation and examine how strengthening Arctic hydrological cycles may increase the connectivity between terrestrial landscapes and receiving nearshore ecosystems, with potential ramifications for coastal carbon budgets and ecosystem structure. To address the future challenges Arctic coastal communities will face, we argue that it will become essential to consider how nearshore ecosystems will respond to changing coastal inputs and identify how these may affect the resiliency and availability of essential food resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439–455
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


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