Decades-Long Arctic Rivers Study Conceived at MBL Reveals Widespread Change
A new study examining a nearly 20-year record of water chemistry collected from the six largest rivers that drain to the Arctic Ocean signals widespread effects of climate change in the North. The findings, published in the August 21 issue of Nature Geoscience, were made possible by the Arctic Great Rivers Observatory (ArcticGRO) which provides the research community with essential data about the chemistry of the largest Arctic rivers.
The Arctic contains several of Earth’s largest rivers, which together transport huge quantities of water and waterborne materials into the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas. ArcticGRO, initially called PARTNERS, was conceived in 2002 by Bruce Peterson, Robert (Max) Holmes, and Jim McClelland while the three were working together at the Marine Biological Laboratory’s (MBL) Ecosystems Center. Peterson was the founding director of the project, followed by Holmes and now McClelland. The project has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) since its inception and is a component of NSF's Arctic Observing Network. ArcticGRO’s work involves a large cast of collaborators from the U.S., Canada, and Russia, and its ongoing success relies on the strong international partnerships that have been forged and sustained over the past 20 years.
Seminal work published in 2002 by Peterson, Holmes, McClelland, and their colleagues documented long-term increases in river water discharge to the Arctic Ocean, but at the time very little was known about the chemical composition of these rivers. Two decades later, the chemistry data from ArcticGRO are showing that remarkable changes are afoot.
“The chemistry of rivers provides integrated information about the landscapes that they drain, and thus we are able to assess climate change effects over vast areas of the North through strategic tracking of water chemistry at downstream locations on the major Arctic rivers” explains McClelland. “Our Nature Geosciences paper presents a comprehensive analysis of temporal patterns in water chemistry of the major Arctic rivers that provides insight about interacting effects of warming, permafrost thaw, vegetation changes, and other climate impacts.”
Roberto Delgado from NSF’s Office of Polar programs notes that “These findings from the Arctic Great Rivers Observatory underscore the importance of international collaborations and sustaining long-term observations to help detect and understand the drivers and consequences of environmental change across the Arctic.”
Tank, et al (2023) Recent trends in the chemistry of major northern rivers signal widespread Arctic change. Nature Geoscience, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-023-01247-7