Articles | Volume 12, issue 23
Research article
10 Dec 2015
Research article |  | 10 Dec 2015

Carbon dynamics in highly heterotrophic subarctic thaw ponds

T. Roiha, I. Laurion, and M. Rautio

Abstract. Global warming has accelerated the formation of permafrost thaw ponds in several subarctic and arctic regions. These ponds are net heterotrophic as evidenced by their greenhouse gas (GHG) supersaturation levels (CO2 and CH4), and generally receive large terrestrial carbon inputs from the thawing and eroding permafrost. We measured seasonal and vertical variations in the concentration and type of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in five subarctic thaw (thermokarst) ponds in northern Quebec, and explored how environmental gradients influenced heterotrophic and phototrophic biomass and productivity. Late winter DOM had low aromaticity indicating reduced inputs of terrestrial carbon, while the high concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) suggests that some production of non-chromophoric dissolved compounds by the microbial food web took place under the ice cover. Summer DOM had a strong terrestrial signature, but was also characterized with significant inputs of algal-derived carbon, especially at the pond surface. During late winter, bacterial production was low (maximum of 0.8 mg C m−3 d−1) and was largely based on free-living bacterioplankton (58 %). Bacterial production in summer was high (up to 58 mg C m−3 d−1), dominated by particle-attached bacteria (67 %), and strongly correlated with the amount of terrestrial carbon. Primary production was restricted to summer surface waters due to strong light limitation deeper in the water column or in winter. The phototrophic biomass was equal to the heterotrophic biomass, but as the algae were mostly composed of mixotrophic species, most probably they used bacteria rather than solar energy in such shaded ponds. Our results point to a strong heterotrophic energy pathway in these thaw pond ecosystems, where bacterioplankton dominates the production of new carbon biomass in both summer and winter.

Short summary
Global warming thaws permafrost and accelerates the formation of thaw ponds in subarctic and arctic regions. These abundant ponds receive large terrestrial carbon inputs from the thawing and eroding permafrost, which is mainly used by bacterioplankton for the production of new biomass. Bacteria metabolism also produces high levels of CO2 and CH4, which make thaw ponds important sources of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We present carbon dynamics in thaw ponds in northern Quebec.
Final-revised paper