Assessing the Potential Impact of River Chemistry on Arctic Coastal Production

Georgina A. Gibson, Scott Elliot, Jaclyn Clement Kinney, Anastasia Piliouras, Nicole Jeffery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The Arctic coastal margin receives a disproportionately large fraction of the global river discharge. The bio-geochemistry of the river water as it empties into the marine environment reflects inputs and processes that occur as the water travels from its headwaters. Climate-induced changes to Arctic vegetation and permafrost melt may impact river chemistry. Understanding the impact of river nutrients on coastal marine production, and how this may change in the future, are important for resource managers and community members who monitor and rely on coastal food resources. Using the Energy Exascale Earth System Model we explore the impact of timing and river nutrient concentrations on primary production in each coastal Arctic region and then assess how this influences secondary production and particle fluxes supporting the benthic food web. Our results indicate that while the concentration of Arctic river nitrogen can have a significant impact on annual average nitrogen and primary production in the coastal Arctic, with production increases of up to 20% in the river influenced interior Seas, the timing of the river nutrient inputs into the marine environment appears less important. Bloom timing and partitioning between small and large phytoplankton were minimally impacted by both river nutrient concentration and timing, suggesting that in general, coastal Arctic ecosystem dynamics will continue to be primarily driven by light availability, rather than nutrients. Under a doubling river nutrient scenario, the percentage increase in the POC flux to the benthos on river influenced Arctic coastal shelves was 2-4 times the percentage increase in primary production, suggesting changes to the river nutrient concentration has the potential to modify the Arctic food web structure and dynamics. Generally, the nutrient-induced changes to primary production were smaller than changes previously simulated in response to ice reduction and temperature increase. However, in the Laptev Sea, the production increase resulting from a doubling of river nutrients exceeded the production increase simulated with an atmospheric warming scenario. Dissolved organic carbon is presently poorly represented in the model so its impact on production is hard to simulate. Applying established relationships between modeled DOC, total DOC, and light absorption we illustrate that DOC could play a very important role in modulating production. Our findings highlight the importance of developing more realistic river nutrient and discharge forcing for Earth System Models such that their impact on the critical Arctic coastal domain can be more adequately resolved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number738363
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - May 18 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Ocean Engineering


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