Permafrost degradation in the catchment of major Siberian rivers, combined with higher precipitation in a warming climate, could increase the flux of terrestrially derived dissolved organic matter (tDOM) into the Arctic Ocean (AO). Each year, ∼ 7.9 Tg of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is discharged into the AO via the three largest rivers that flow into the Laptev Sea (LS) and East Siberian Sea (ESS). A significant proportion of this tDOM-rich river water undergoes at least one freeze–melt cycle in the land-fast ice that forms along the coast of the Laptev and East Siberian seas in winter. To better understand how growth and melting of land-fast ice affect dissolved organic matter (DOM) dynamics in the LS and ESS, we determined DOC concentrations and the optical properties of coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in sea ice, river water and seawater. The data set, covering different seasons over a 9-year period (2010–2019), was complemented by oceanographic measurements (T, S) and determination of the oxygen isotope composition of the seawater.
Although removal of tDOM cannot be ruled out, our study suggests that conservative mixing of high-tDOM river water and sea-ice meltwater with low-tDOM seawater is the major factor controlling the surface distribution of tDOM in the LS and ESS. A case study based on data from winter 2012 and spring 2014 reveals that the mixing of about 273 km3 of low-tDOM land-fast-ice meltwater (containing ∼ 0.3 Tg DOC) with more than 200 km3 of high-tDOM Lena River water discharged during the spring freshet (∼ 2.8 Tg DOC yr−1) plays a dominant role in this respect. The mixing of the two low-salinity surface water masses is possible because the meltwater and the river water of the spring freshet flow into the southeastern LS at the same time every year (May–July). In addition, budget calculations indicate that in the course of the growth of land-fast ice in the southeastern LS, ∼ 1.2 Tg DOC yr−1 (± 0.54 Tg) can be expelled from the growing ice in winter, together with brines. These DOC-rich brines can then be transported across the shelves into the Arctic halocline and the Transpolar Drift Current flowing from the Siberian Shelf towards Greenland.
The study of dissolved organic matter dynamics in the AO is important not only to decipher the Arctic carbon cycle but also because CDOM regulates physical processes such as radiative forcing in the upper ocean, which has important effects on sea surface temperature, water column stratification, biological productivity and UV penetration.