Articles | Volume 14, issue 23
Research article
04 Dec 2017
Research article |  | 04 Dec 2017

Capturing temporal and spatial variability in the chemistry of shallow permafrost ponds

Matthew Q. Morison, Merrin L. Macrae, Richard M. Petrone, and LeeAnn Fishback

Abstract. Across the circumpolar north, the fate of small freshwater ponds and lakes (< 1 km2) has been the subject of scientific interest due to their ubiquity in the landscape, capacity to exchange carbon and energy with the atmosphere, and their potential to inform researchers about past climates through sediment records. A changing climate has implications for the capacity of ponds and lakes to support organisms and store carbon, which in turn has important feedbacks to climate change. Thus, an improved understanding of pond biogeochemistry is needed. To characterize spatial and temporal patterns in water column chemistry, a suite of tundra ponds were examined to answer the following research questions: (1) does temporal variability exceed spatial variability? (2) If temporal variability exists, do all ponds (or groups of ponds) behave in a similar temporal pattern, linked to seasonal hydrologic drivers or precipitation events? Six shallow ponds located in the Hudson Bay Lowlands region were monitored between May and October 2015 (inclusive, spanning the entire open-water period). The ponds span a range of biophysical conditions including pond area, perimeter, depth, and shoreline development. Water samples were collected regularly, both bimonthly over the ice-free season and intensively during and following a large summer storm event. Samples were analysed for nitrogen speciation (NO3, NH4+, dissolved organic nitrogen) and major ions (Cl, SO42−, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, Na+). Across all ponds, temporal variability (across the season and within a single rain event) exceeded spatial variability (variation among ponds) in concentrations of several major species (Cl, SO42−, K+, Ca2+, Na+). Evapoconcentration and dilution of pond water with precipitation and runoff inputs were the dominant processes influencing a set of chemical species which are hydrologically driven (Cl, Na+, K+, Mg2+, dissolved organic nitrogen), whereas the dissolved inorganic nitrogen species were likely mediated by processes within ponds. This work demonstrates the importance of understanding hydrologically driven chemodynamics in permafrost ponds on multiple scales (seasonal and event scale).

Short summary
Shallow ponds and lakes are common features in permafrost systems. We show that the chemistry of these water bodies can be dynamic, although the changes are consistent through time between ponds. This synchrony in some water chemistry appears to be related to water level variations. Because hydrological conditions can vary greatly over the course of the year and during a storm, this work underscores the importance of interpreting water samples from these systems within their hydrologic context.
Final-revised paper