The influence of snowcover distribution and variable melt regimes on the transport of nutrients from two high Arctic watersheds

Thumbnail Image
McLeod, Brock R.
High Arctic , Hydrology , Snow Distribution , Nutrients
In June 2005, fieldwork was conducted during the spring snowmelt period at Cape Bounty, Melville Island, Nunavut to examine the relationships between snow accumulation, runoff, and nutrient fluxes in two High Arctic watersheds. The snowcover was quantified by means of eleven depth and three density measurements at 42 survey transects (100 m) distributed throughout the West and East watersheds. River discharge was monitored at the watershed outlets, where water samples were collected four times daily during the first ten days of melt and twice daily once flow receded. Water samples were also collected from headwater and tributary sites in the two watersheds, and samples were analyzed for DOC, DON and DIN (NH4+ and NO3-). An objective terrain classification weighted equally on slope, aspect and land surface curvature was applied to the two watersheds using an ISODATA unsupervised classification scheme to determine watershed SWE. The terrain model confirmed that topography likely explains greater SWE in the West watershed, and provides a method for reproducible estimates of watershed SWE in future years. However, improved methods for estimating SWE in channels and deep snowbanks are required to ensure accurate assessments of watershed SWE. The seasonal trends in DOC, DON, and DIN concentrations and specific fluxes are reported for both watersheds. The export of DON and DIN was strongly correlated with DOC in the West watershed, indicating that the flushing of terrestrial nutrients from surficial soils by snowmelt runoff governs nutrient export. Despite less watershed SWE (51%), the East watershed exported greater specific fluxes of DOC (33%) and DON (43%) during the melt season. This suggests that the East watershed had greater connectivity with OM sources early in the melt season. Furthermore, low DOC:DON ratios (< 15) in the East River indicate that a larger portion of DOM was likely derived from algal or microbial sources in the East watershed relative to the West watershed. The export of DIN was similar in the two watersheds, and results suggest that DIN export was likely controlled by watershed vegetation coverage and runoff volumes during snowmelt.
External DOI