Seasonal variability in particulate organic carbon degradation in the Kolyma River, Siberia

Kirsi Keskitalo*, Lisa-Marie Bröder, Dirk Jong, Nikita Zimov, Anna Davydova, Sergey Davydov, Tommaso Tesi, Paul Mann, Negar Haghipour, Timothy Eglinton, Jorien Vonk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Major Arctic rivers are undergoing changes due to climate warming with higher discharge and increased amounts of solutes and organic carbon (OC) draining into rivers and coastal seas. Permafrost thaw mobilizes previously frozen OC to the fluvial network where it can be degraded into greenhouse gases and emitted to the atmosphere. Degradation of OC during downstream transport, especially of the particulate OC (POC), is however poorly characterized. Here, we quantified POC degradation in the Kolyma River, the largest river system underlain with continuous permafrost, during 9-15 day whole-water incubations (containing POC and dissolved OC - DOC) during two seasons: spring freshet (early June) and late summer (end of July). Furthermore, we examined interactions between dissolved and particulate phases using parallel incubations of filtered water (only DOC). We measured OC concentrations and carbon isotopes (δ13 C, Δ14 C) to define carbon losses and to characterize OC composition, respectively. We found that both POC composition and biodegradability differs greatly between seasons. During summer, POC was predominantly autochthonous (47-95 %) and degraded rapidly (~33 %) whereas freshet POC was largely of allochthonous origin (77-96 %) and less degradable. Gains in POC concentrations (up to 31 %) were observed in freshet waters that could be attributed to flocculation and adsorption of DOC to particles. The demonstrated DOC flocculation and adsorption to POC indicates that the fate and dynamics of the substantially-sized DOC pool may shift from degradation to settling, depending on season and POC concentrations - the latter potentially acting to attenuate greenhouse gas emissions from fluvial systems. We finally note that DOC incubations without POC present may yield degradation estimates that do not reflect degradation in the in situ river conditions, and that interaction between dissolved and particulate phases may be important to consider when determining fluvial carbon dynamics and feedbacks under a changing climate.
Original languageEnglish
Article number034007
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Early online date21 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


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