Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Biogeosciences, 8, 565–583, 2011

Special issue: Land-shelf-basin interactions of the Siberian Arctic

Biogeosciences, 8, 565–583, 2011

Research article 04 Mar 2011

Research article | 04 Mar 2011

Effect of permafrost thawing on organic carbon and trace element colloidal speciation in the thermokarst lakes of western Siberia

O. S. Pokrovsky1, L. S. Shirokova2, S. N. Kirpotin3, S. Audry1, J. Viers1, and B. Dupré1 O. S. Pokrovsky et al.
  • 1LMTG-GET, UMR 5563 CNRS (INSU), Université de Toulouse, Avenue Edouard Belin, 31400, Toulouse, France
  • 2Laboratory of Aquatic Ecosystems, Institute of Ecological Problems of the North, Ural Branch Russian Academy of Science, Arkhangelsk, 163000, Russia
  • 3Tomsk State University, 36, Lenina Prospekt, Tomsk, 634050, Russia

Abstract. To examine the mechanisms of carbon mobilization and biodegradation during permafrost thawing and to establish a link between organic carbon (OC) and other chemical and microbiological parameters in forming thermokarst (thaw) lakes, we studied the biogeochemistry of OC and trace elements (TEs) in a chronosequence of small lakes that are being formed due to permafrost thawing in the northern part of western Siberia. Twenty lakes and small ponds of various sizes and ages were sampled for dissolved and colloidal organic carbon, metals and culturable heterotrophic bacterial cell number. We observed a sequence of ecosystems from peat thawing and palsa degradation due to permafrost subsidence in small ponds to large, km-size lakes that are subject to drainage to, finally, the khasyrey (drained lake) formation. There is a systematic evolution of both total dissolved and colloidal concentration of OC and TEs in the lake water along with the chronosequence of lake development that may be directly linked to the microbial mineralization of dissolved organic matter and the liberation of the inorganic components (Fe, Al, and TEs) from the organo-mineral colloids.

In this chronosequence of lake development, we observed an apparent decrease in the relative proportion of low molecular weight <1 kDa (1 kDa ~ 1 nm) OC concentration along with a decrease in the concentration of total dissolved (<0.45 μm) OC. This decrease was accompanied by an increase in the small size organic ligands (probably autochthonous exometabolites produced by the phytoplankton) and a simultaneous decrease in the proportion of large-size organic (humic) complexes of allochthonous (soil) origin. This evolution may be due to the activity of heterotrophic bacterioplankton that use allochthonous organic matter and dissolved nutrients originating from peat lixiviation. Most insoluble TEs demonstrate a systematic decrease in concentration during filtration (5 μm, 0.45 μm) exhibiting a similar pattern among different samples. At the same time, there is an increase in the relative proportion of large size particles over the <1 kDa fraction for most insoluble elements along the chronosequence of lake evolution. TEs are likely to be bound to colloidal OC and coprecipitate with the mineral (Fe, Al) part of the colloids. Upon progressive consumption of dissolved OC by the heterotrophic bacteria, there is liberation of Fe, Al, and insoluble TEs in the water column that may be subjected to coagulation in the form of particles or large-size mineral colloids.

Final-revised paper