Linking landscape variables, hydrology and weathering regime in Taiga and Tundra ecoregions of Northern Sweden

University dissertation from Stockholm : Institutionen för tillämpad miljövetenskap (ITM)

Abstract: High-latitude watersheds have been regarded as a carbon sink with soil carbon accumulating at low temperature. This sink is now believed to turn into a source, acting as positive feedback to climate warming. However, thawing permafrost soils would allow more water to percolate down to deeper soil layers where some of the carbon could be “consumed” in weathering and exported as bicarbonate to the sea. Using a hydrological mixing model showed that this could counterbalance the predicted positive feedback resulting from thawing soils.Vegetation-covered riparian zones in headwater areas appear to have a significant role for the dissolved constituent fluxes. Higher concentrations of weathering products are found in taiga and tundra rivers with larger areas of forest and peat cover in the watershed. These landscape elements can thus be regarded as “hot spots” of river loading with dissolved constituents.Comparing a regulated and an unregulated river tested the hypothesis that damming leads to a depletion of major elements also in oligotrophic river systems as a consequence of changes in landscape elements. A loss of upper soils and vegetation through inundation prevents the contact of surface waters with vegetated soil, and consequently reduces weathering fluxes. The hypothesis that the lower fluxes of dissolved silica (DSi) in the regulated river could also be explained by biological uptake was then tested using a model, and budget calculations indicate a significant reduction as a result of regulation. About 10% of this reduction can be attributed to the flooding of the fluvial corridor and the rest to diatom blooms in the reservoirs. A more detailed study of landscape elements for the headwaters of the river Luleälven showed that only 3% of the surface area has been inundated by reservoirs but ca. 37% of the deciduous forest. Such a significant loss of hot spots may indeed explain the observed lower DSi fluxes in the regulated watersheds of northern Sweden.