Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
23 January 2020

Characterizing Arctic Deltas and Their Impact on Land-Ocean Fluxes

Arctic deltas convey riverine fluxes over small areas and hold signatures of ice cover that alters channel patterns.

Science

Arctic riverine fluxes are anticipated to increase as the Arctic warms and have a large impact on the Arctic ocean. Deltas modify the spatial and temporal distributions of riverine fluxes, but no thorough studies have been conducted to analyze Arctic delta morphologies to determine their influence on land‐ocean fluxes. We performed an analysis of six high‐latitude deltas (Colville, Kolyma, Lena, Mackenzie, Yenisei, and Yukon) to characterize delta morphologies and determine the influence of morphology on the distribution of fluxes to the coast.

Impact

Arctic rivers transport large amounts of water, heat, and nutrients to the Arctic Ocean, but these fluxes are distributed into the coastal zone by deltas that can alter the spatial and temporal patterns of riverine outflows. This study provides the first in-depth investigation and comparison of Arctic delta morphologies that affect these patterns to assess channel patterns that control the spatial pattern of fluxes; island patterns that control susceptibility to drowning by sea-level rise; and the connectedness of lakes that may alter nutrient, heat, and sediment fluxes to the coast, all of which affect marine primary productivity.

Summary

Arctic riverine fluxes are anticipated to increase as the Arctic warms and have a large impact on the Arctic ocean. Deltas modify the spatial and temporal distributions of riverine fluxes, but no thorough studies have been conducted to analyze Arctic delta morphologies to determine their influence on land‐ocean fluxes. We performed an analysis of six high‐latitude deltas (Colville, Kolyma, Lena, Mackenzie, Yenisei, and Yukon) to characterize delta morphologies and determine the influence of morphology on the distribution of fluxes to the coast. All six deltas deliver material to the coast at discrete locations across small areas despite differences in delta shoreline length. Large Arctic deltas exhibit large variability in channel width, which we hypothesize is due to feedback with ice cover and retreat that favors the growth of large channels over geologic timescales. Spatial variability in island sizes suggests variability in channel activity, island nourishment, and susceptibility to drowning by sea-level rise. Potential lake storage is highest on the Mackenzie delta, thus providing a means for reducing nutrient and sediment loading of the coastal ocean. Connected lakes are also prevalent on the Colville and Yukon deltas, suggesting that these deltas can filter riverine fluxes even when the deltas are not flooded. Differences in Arctic delta morphologies can be explained by varying levels of riverine and marine influence, antecedent topography, and local channel dynamics. Ice cover also plays a large role in controlling Arctic delta morphologies and dynamics that have not been previously represented in interpretations of existing delta metrics.

Contact
Anastasia Piliouras
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Publications
Piliouras, A, and JC Rowland.  2020.  "Arctic River Delta Morphologic Variability and Implications for Riverine Fluxes to the Coast."  Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface 125.  https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JF005250.