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Seasonal Patterns of Riverine Carbon Sources and Export in NW Greenland


Glacial runoff exports large amounts of carbon (C) to the oceans, but major uncertainty remains regarding sources, seasonality, and magnitude. We apportioned C exported by five rivers from glacial and periglacial sources in northwest Greenland by monitoring discharge, water sources (δ18O), concentration and composition of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and ages (14C) of DOC and particulate organic C over three summers (2010–2012). We found that particulate organic C (F = 1.0366–0.2506) was generally older than DOC in glacial sourced rivers and likely sourced from the physical erosion of aged C pools. Most exported DOC showed strong seasonal variations in sources and discharge. In summer, mean DOC ages ranged from modern to 4,750 cal years BP (F = 1.0022–0.6291); however, the annual C flux from glacially sourced rivers was dominated by young, plant-derived DOC (F = 0.9667–1.002) exported during the spring freshet. The most aged DOC (F = 0.6891–0.8297) was exported in middle to late summer at lower concentrations and was glacial in origin. Scaled to the whole of Greenland using model-estimated runoff, we estimate a total riverine DOC flux of 0.29% to 0.45% ± 20% Tg C/year. Our flux results indicate that the highest C fluxes occur during the time of year when the majority of C is modern in age. However, higher melt rates from the Greenland ice sheet and longer growing seasons could result in increasing amounts of ancient C from the Greenland ice sheet and from the periglacial landscape to the ocean.

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