01 Feb 2023
 | 01 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Glacier loss and vegetation expansion alter organic and inorganic carbon dynamics in alpine streams

Andrew Lean Robison, Nicola Deluigi, Camille Rolland, Nicolas Manetti, and Tom Battin

Abstract. High-mountain ecosystems are experiencing acute effects of climate change, most visibly through glacier recession and the greening of the terrestrial environment. The streams draining these landscapes are affected by these shifts, integrating hydrologic, geologic, and biological signals across the catchment. We examined the organic and inorganic carbon dynamics of streams in four Alpine catchments in Switzerland to assess how glacier loss and vegetation expansion are affecting the carbon cycle of these high mountain ecosystems. We find that organic carbon concentration and fluorescence properties associated with humic-like compounds increase with vegetation cover within a catchment, demonstrating the increasing importance of allochthonous carbon sources following glacier retreat. Meanwhile, streams transitioned from carbon dioxide sinks to sources with decreasing glacier coverage and increased vegetation coverage, with chemical weathering and soil respiration likely determining the balance. Periods of sink behavior were also observed in non-glaciated streams, indicating geochemical consumption of carbon dioxide may be more common in high-mountain, minimally vegetated catchments than previously described. Together, these results demonstrate the dramatic shifts in carbon dynamics of alpine streams following glacier recession, with significant changes to both the organic and inorganic carbon cycles. The clear link between the terrestrial and aquatic zones further emphasizes the coupled dynamics with which all hydrologic and biogeochemical changes in these ecosystems should be considered, including the role of mountain streams in the global carbon cycle.

Andrew Lean Robison et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2023-12', Anonymous Referee #1, 07 Mar 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2023-12', Anonymous Referee #2, 16 Mar 2023
  • RC3: 'Comment on bg-2023-12', Anonymous Referee #3, 19 Mar 2023

Andrew Lean Robison et al.

Andrew Lean Robison et al.


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Short summary
Mountain ecosystems are greatly affected by climate change, with the loss of glaciers and the uphill migration of vegetation. We studied how these changes may affect carbon dynamics in the streams draining these landscapes within the Swiss Alps. We found the loss of glaciers reduces the carbon dioxide sink from weathering, and the expansion of vegetation increases organic carbon found in the streams. Together, these changes highlight dramatic shifts for montane streams globally.