Landscape-gradient assessment of thermokarst lake hydrology using water isotope tracers

Hanno.Meyer [ at ]


Thermokarst lakes are widespread in arctic and subarctic regions. In subarctic Québec (Nunavik), they have grown in number and size since the mid-20th century. Recent studies have identified that these lakes are important sources of greenhouse gases. This is mainly due to the supply of catchment-derived dissolved organic carbon that generates anoxic conditions leading to methane production. To assess the potential role of climate-driven changes in hydrological processes to influence greenhouse-gas emissions, we utilized water isotope tracers to characterize the water balance of thermokarst lakes in Nunavik during three consecutive mid- to late summer seasons (2012-2014). Lake distribution stretches from shrub-tundra overlying discontinuous permafrost in the north to spruce-lichen woodland with sporadic permafrost in the south. Calculation of lake-specific input water isotope compositions (I) and lake-specific evaporation-to-inflow (E/I) ratios based on an isotope-mass balance model reveal a narrow hydrological gradient regardless of diversity in regional landscape characteristics. Nearly all lakes sampled were predominantly fed by rainfall and/or permafrost meltwater, which suppressed the effects of evaporative loss. Only a few lakes in one of the southern sampling locations, which overly highly degraded sporadic permafrost terrain, appear to be susceptible to evaporative lake-level drawdown. We attribute this lake hydrological resiliency to the strong maritime climate in coastal regions of Nunavik. Predicted climate-driven increases in precipitation and permafrost degradation will likely contribute to persistence and expansion of thermokarst lakes throughout the region. If coupled with an increase in terrestrial carbon inputs to thermokarst lakes from surface runoff, conditions favorable for mineralization and emission of methane, these water bodies may become even more important sources of greenhouse gases.

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DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.11.028

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Narancic, B. , Wolfe, B. B. , Pienitz, R. , Meyer, H. and Lamhonwah, D. , Laboratoire de paléoécologie aquatique, Centre d’études nordiques, Département de géographie, Université Laval, QC, G1V 0A6, Canada (2016): Landscape-gradient assessment of thermokarst lake hydrology using water isotope tracers , Journal of Hydrology . doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.11.028

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