11 Jul 2022
11 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

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

Marta Santos-Garcia1, Raja Singaravelu Ganeshram1, Robyn Elizabeth Tuerena1,2, Margot Christine Frédérique Debyser1, Katrine Husum3, Philipp Assmy3, and Haakon Hop3 Marta Santos-Garcia et al.
  • 1School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3FE, United Kingdom
  • 2Scottish Association for Marine Science, Dunstaffnage, PA37 1QA, United Kingdom
  • 3Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, 9296, Norway

Abstract. Ongoing climate change in the Arctic has caused tidewater glacier retreat and increased discharge of freshwater and terrestrial material into fjords. These land inputs bring nutrients into the fjords and their cycling within the fjord system can vary with the influence of tidewater glaciers and the presence of sub-glacial meltwater plumes. 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 nutrients 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, where the inputs exceed Redfield ratios with 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-NO3- and low δ15N-NO3- 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 with 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-NO3-) and this suggests that nearly half the nitrate in the subglacial plume (50 ± 3 %) and the water column (44 ± 3 %) originates from terrestrial sources. In addition, we show that terrestrial N also contributes significantly to regenerated N pool (63–88 %) within this fjord suggesting its importance in sustaining productivity within Kongsfjorden. 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 scenario postulated for fjords such as Kongsfjorden include more terrestrial N-fuelled productivity and N cycling within the fjord, less vigorous circulation and the expansion of oxygen depleted deep waters inside the sill.

Marta Santos-Garcia et al.

Status: open (until 30 Aug 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-584', Andy Hodson, 24 Jul 2022 reply
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-584', Anonymous Referee #1, 09 Aug 2022 reply

Marta Santos-Garcia et al.

Marta Santos-Garcia et al.


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Short summary
Terrestrial sources of nitrate are important contributors to the nutrient pool in the fjords of Kongsfjorden and Rijpfjorden in Svalbard during the summer and they sustain most of the fjord primary productivity. Ongoing tidewater glacier retreat is postulated to favour light limitation and less dynamic circulation in fjords. This is suggested to encourage the export of nutrients to the middle and outer part of the fjord system, which may enhance primary production within and in offshore areas.