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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Permafrost and Arctic Rivers

Permafrost and Arctic Rivers


Yukon River Delta, Sediment Runoff, and Phytoplankton Bloom (credit: NASA & USGS)

The ecological connections of land and sea zones are directly connected by rivers feeding regional deltas. Sediments moving down a river are eventually deposited in a bay, estuary, or ocean. The flows of the Nile, Yangtze, and Mississippi rivers have told a great deal about history, civilization, and ecology for millennia. This is still true.

Rivers in the Arctic are especially helpful in observe climate change in 'real time'. Landscape-wide regional soils, long frozen as permafrost, are now melting and the runoff sediments are being deposited into the Arctic Ocean. One research study measured changes to the Yukon River over more than 30 years using water chemistry data as a timeline guide. According to the researchers:

"the Yukon region has experienced a warming climate over the last century that has altered air temperature, precipitation, and permafrost. Using a water chemistry database from 1982-2014 for the Yukon River and its major tributary, the Tanana River significant increases of dissolved calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sodium (Na) were found in both rivers. Additionally, sulfates (SO4) and phosphorus (P) increased in the Yukon River.

and concluded by saying:

"the thawing permafrost enables the release of more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and also allows much more mineral-laden and nutrient-rich water to be transported to rivers, groundwater, and eventually into the Arctic Ocean.” 

Nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are essential for healthy plant growth. However, when over abundant in oceans, bays, and lakes can allow for the the spread of phytoplankton blooms. A video shows the consequences of melting permafrost on cities, landscapes, and the regional ecology.

Unlike the Nile, Yangtze, or Mississippi rivers, changes happening to the Arctic's ecology are just being quantified and appreciated.


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