Sedimentary and geochemical characteristics of two small permafrost-dominated Arctic river deltas in northern Alaska

Arktos. 2018;4(1):1-18. doi: 10.1007/s41063-018-0056-9. Epub 2018 Jun 22.


Arctic river deltas are highly dynamic environments in the northern circumpolar permafrost region that are affected by fluvial, coastal, and permafrost-thaw processes. They are characterized by thick sediment deposits containing large but poorly constrained amounts of frozen organic carbon and nitrogen. This study presents new data on soil organic carbon and nitrogen storage as well as accumulation rates from the Ikpikpuk and Fish Creek river deltas, two small, permafrost-dominated Arctic river deltas on the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska. A soil organic carbon storage of 42.4 ± 1.6 and 37.9 ± 3.5 kg C m- 2 and soil nitrogen storage of 2.1 ± 0.1 and 2.0 ± 0.2 kg N m- 2 was found for the first 2 m of soil for the Ikpikpuk and Fish Creek river delta, respectively. While the upper meter of soil contains 3.57 Tg C, substantial amounts of carbon (3.09 Tg C or 46%) are also stored within the second meter of soil (100-200 cm) in the two deltas. An increasing and inhomogeneous distribution of C with depth is indicative of the dominance of deltaic depositional rather than soil forming processes for soil organic carbon storage. Largely, mid- to late Holocene radiocarbon dates in our cores suggest different carbon accumulation rates for the two deltas for the last 2000 years. Rates up to 28 g C m- 2 year- 1 for the Ikpikpuk river delta are about twice as high as for the Fish Creek river delta. With this study, we highlight the importance of including these highly dynamic permafrost environments in future permafrost carbon estimations.

Keywords: Accumulation rates; Alaska North Slope; Landsat 8; Radiocarbon dating; Soil organic carbon; Supervised classification; Upscaling.