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Estimating meltwater retention and associated nitrate redistribution during snowmelt in an Arctic tundra landscape

New publication by Andreas Westergaard-Nielsen, Thomas Balstrøm, Urs A Treier, Signe Normand and Bo Elberling


Nitrogen availability in Arctic ecosystems is a key driver for biological activity, including plant, growth and thereby directly linked to the greening of the Arctic. Here, we model the redistribution of meltwater following spring snowmelt as well as the accumulation of meltwater and dissolved nitrate at landscape scale. By combining snow mapping with unmanned aerial systems, snow chemistry, and hydrological modelling, we argue that the majority of nitrate in the snowpack is flushed out of the landscape due to the limited storage capacity of meltwater in the early growing season frozen soil. We illustrate how landscape micro-topography is a crucial parameter to quantify storage capacity of meltwater at landscape scale and thereby the associated pool of soluble compounds such as nitrate. This pool will be available for plants and may be important for plant diversity and growth rates in the wettest part of the landscape. This study illustrates that the evenly distributed nitrate input during the Arctic winter may be redistributed during the initial snowmelt and lead to marked differences in biologically available nitrate at the onset of the growing season, but also that the majority of deposited nitrate in snow is lost from the terrestrial to the aquatic environment during snowmelt