Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
04 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 04 Jun 2013

The fate of riverine nutrients on Arctic shelves

V. Le Fouest, M. Babin, and J.-É. Tremblay

Abstract. Present and future levels of primary production (PP) in the Arctic Ocean (AO) depend on nutrient inputs to the photic zone via vertical mixing, upwelling and external sources. In this regard, the importance of horizontal river supply relative to oceanic processes is poorly constrained at the pan-Arctic scale. We compiled extensive historical (1954–2012) data on discharge and nutrient concentrations to estimate fluxes of nitrate, soluble reactive phosphate (SRP), silicate, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), particulate organic nitrogen (PON) and particulate organic carbon (POC) from 9 large Arctic rivers and assess their potential impact on the biogeochemistry of shelf waters. Several key points can be emphasized from this analysis. The contribution of riverine nitrate to new PP (PPnew) is very small at the regional scale (< 1% to 6.7%) and negligible at the pan-Arctic scale (< 0.83%), in agreement with recent studies. By consuming all this nitrate, oceanic phytoplankton would be able to use only 14.3% and 8.7–24.5% of the river supply of silicate at the pan-Arctic and regional scales, respectively. Corresponding figures for SRP are 28.9% and 18.6–46%. On the Beaufort and Bering shelves, riverine SRP cannot fulfil phytoplankton requirements. On a seasonal basis, the removal of riverine nitrate, silicate and SRP would be the highest in spring and not in summer when AO shelf waters are nitrogen-limited. Riverine DON is potentially an important nitrogen source for the planktonic ecosystem in summer, when ammonium supplied through the photoammonification of refractory DON (3.9 × 109 mol N) may exceed the combined riverine supply of nitrate and ammonium (3.4 × 109 mol N). Nevertheless, overall nitrogen limitation of AO phytoplankton is expected to persist even when projected increases of riverine DON and nitrate supply are taken into account. This analysis underscores the need to better contrast oceanic nutrient supply processes with the composition and fate of changing riverine nutrient deliveries in future scenarios of plankton community structure, function and production in the coastal AO.

Final-revised paper