Seasonality of dissolved nitrogen from spring melt to fall freezeup in Alaskan Arctic tundra and mountain streams

Matthew S. Khosh*, James W. McClelland, Andrew D. Jacobson, Thomas A. Douglas, Amanda J. Barker, Gregory O. Lehn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Predicting the response of dissolved nitrogen export from Arctic watersheds to climate change requires an improved understanding of seasonal nitrogen dynamics. Recent studies of Arctic rivers emphasize the importance of spring thaw as a time when large fluxes of nitrogen are exported from Arctic watersheds, but studies capturing the entire hydrologic year are rare. We examined the temporal variability of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations in six streams/rivers in Arctic Alaska from spring melt to fall freezeup (May through October) in 2009 and 2010. DON concentrations were generally high during snowmelt and declined as runoff decreased. DIN concentrations were low through the spring and summer and increased markedly during the late summer and fall, primarily due to an increase in nitrate. The high DIN concentrations were observed to occur when seasonal soil thaw depths were near maximum extents. Concurrent increases in DIN and DIN-to-chloride ratios suggest that net increases from nitrogen sources contributed to these elevated DIN concentrations. Our stream chemistry data, combined with soil thermistor data, suggest that downward penetration of water into seasonally thawed mineral soils, and reduction in biological nitrogen assimilation relative to remineralization, may increase DIN export from Arctic watersheds during the late summer and fall. While this is part of a natural cycle, improved understanding of seasonal nitrogen dynamics is particularly important now because warmer temperatures in the Arctic are causing earlier spring snowmelt and later fall freezeup in many regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1718-1737
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Alaska
  • Arctic
  • dissolved inorganic nitrogen
  • dissolved organic nitrogen
  • nitrogen
  • river biogeochemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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