The Ephemeral Signature of Permafrost Carbon in an Arctic Fluvial Network

TitleThe Ephemeral Signature of Permafrost Carbon in an Arctic Fluvial Network
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDrake, TW, Guillemette, F, Hemingway, JD, Chanton, JP, Podgorski, DC, Zimov, NS, Spencer, RGM
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Pagination1475 - 1485
Date PublishedJul-05-2018

Arctic fluvial networks process, outgas, and transport significant quantities of terrestrial organic carbon (C), particularly dissolved organic carbon (DOC). The proportion of permafrost C in these fluxes, however, is poorly constrained. A primary obstacle to the quantification of permafrost‐derived DOC is that it is rapidly respired without leaving a unique tracer of its presence. In this study, we investigated the production of bacterial respiratory carbon dioxide (CO2; measured as dissolved inorganic carbon; DIC) during maximum late‐summer thaw in sites spanning a fluvial network (Kolyma Basin, Siberia) to assess whether the biodegradation of permafrost DOC could be detected by the presence of a persistent aged (14C‐depleted) signature on the DIC pool. Using Keeling plot interpretation of DIC produced in bioincubations of river water, we show that bacteria respire varying sources of DOC moving downstream through the fluvial network. Respiration of permafrost (production of aged CO2) was only detected in heavily permafrost thaw influenced sites. In nonpermafrost thaw impacted sites, ambient DIC was modern (14C‐enriched), but rather than precluding the respiration of permafrost OC upstream, we suggest that 14C‐depleted DIC is overwhelmed by modern DIC. Investigation of dissolved organic matter composition via Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry highlighted that elevated levels of aliphatic and nitrogen‐containing compounds were associated with the production of aged DIC, providing molecular‐level insight as to why permafrost‐derived dissolved organic matter is rapidly respired. Overall, results from this study demonstrate the difficulty of tracing inputs of a highly reactive substrate to systems with diverse organic matter sources.