Nitrate isotope investigations reveal future impacts of climate change on nitrogen inputs and cycling in Arctic fjords: Kongsfjorden and Rijpfjorden (Svalbard)

Marta Santos-garcia, Raja S. Ganeshram, Robyn E. Tuerena, Margot C. F. Debyser, Katrine Husum, Philipp Assmy, Haakon Hop

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Ongoing climate change in the Arctic has caused tidewater glaciers to retreat while increasing the discharge of freshwater and terrestrial material into fjords. This can affect both nutrient inputs and cycling within the fjord systems. In particular, tidewater glaciers and the presence of associated subglacial meltwater plumes can have a large impact on fjord circulation and biogeochemistry. In this study, we assess the influence of tidewater glaciers on nitrogen inputs and cycling in two fjords in Svalbard during the summer using stable isotopic analyses of dissolved nitrate (δ15N and δ18O) in combination with nutrient and hydrographic data. Kongsfjorden receives inputs from tidewater glaciers, whereas Rijpfjorden mainly receives surface inputs from land-terminating glaciers. Results showed that both fjords are enriched in nutrients from terrestrial inputs. Nutrient ratios indicate excess Si and P relative to N. In both fjords, terrestrial nitrate from snowpack and glacier melting are identified as the dominant sources based on high δ18O-NO and low δ15N-NO of dissolved nitrate. In Kongsfjorden, mixed-layer nitrate is completely consumed within the fjord system, which we attribute to vigorous circulation at the glacial front influenced by the subglacial plume and longer residence time in the fjord. This is in contrast to Rijpfjorden where nutrients are only partially consumed perhaps due to surface river discharge and light limitation. In Kongsfjorden, we estimate terrestrial and marine N contributions to the nitrate pool from nitrogen isotopic values (δ15N-NO), and this suggests that nearly half the nitrate in the subglacial plume (50 ± 3 %) and the water column (44 ± 3 %) originates from terrestrial sources. We show that terrestrial N contributes significantly to the regenerated N pool (63 %–88 %) within this fjord suggesting its importance in sustaining productivity here. Given this importance of terrestrial nutrient sources within the fjords, increase in these inputs due to climate change can enhance the fjord nutrient inventory, productivity and nutrient export offshore. Specifically, increasing Atlantification and warmer Atlantic Water will encourage tidewater glacier retreat and in turn increase surface discharge. In fjords akin to Rijpfjorden this is expected to foster more light limitation and less dynamic circulation, ultimately aiding the export of nutrients offshore contributing to coastal productivity. Climate change scenarios postulated for fjords such as Kongsfjorden include more terrestrial N-fuelled productivity and N cycling within the fjord, less vigorous circulation due to the retreat of tidewater glaciers, and the expansion of oxygen-depleted deep waters isolated by the sill.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5973-6002
Number of pages30
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2022


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