Multiple tracers demonstrate distinct sources of dissolved organic matter to lakes of the Mackenzie Delta, western Canadian Arctic

Suzanne E. Tank, Lance F. W. Lesack, Jolie A. L. Gareis, Christopher L. Osburn and Ray H. Hesslein

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(4), 2011, 1297-1309 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.4.1297

ABSTRACT: Lakes of the Mackenzie Delta occur across a gradient that contains three clear end members: those that remain connected to river-water channels throughout the summer; those that receive only brief inputs of river water during an annual spring flood but contain dense macrophyte stands; and those that experience significant permafrost thaw along their margins. We measured dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration, dissolved organic matter (DOM) absorption and fluorescence, and stable isotopes of DOM, DOM precursor materials, and bacteria to elucidate the importance of river water, macrophytes, and thermokarst as DOM sources to Mackenzie Delta lakes. Despite standing stocks of macrophyte C that are sevenfold to 12-fold greater than those of total DOC, stable isotopes indicated that autochthonous sources contributed less than 15% to overall DOM in macrophyte-rich lakes. Instead, fluorescence and absorption indicated that the moderate summertime increase in DOC concentration in macrophyte-rich lakes was the result of infrequent flushing, while bacterial δ13C indicated rapid bacterial removal of autochthonous DOC from the water column. In thermokarst lakes, summertime increases in DOC concentration were substantial, and stable isotopes indicated that much of this increase came from C released as a result of thermokarst-related processes. Our results indicate that these distinct sources of DOM to neighboring arctic Delta lakes may drive between-lake differences in C cycling and energy flow. Rapidly assimilated macrophyte DOM should be an important contributor to microbial food webs in our study lakes. In contrast, the accumulation of thermokarst-origin DOM allows for a significant role in physico-chemistry but indicates a lesser contribution of this DOM to higher trophic levels.

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