River export of nutrients and organic matter from the North Slope of Alaska to the Beaufort Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • While river-borne materials are recognized as important resources supporting coastal ecosystems around the world, estimates of river export from the North Slope of Alaska have been limited by a scarcity of water chemistry and river discharge data. This paper quantifies water, nutrient, and organic matter export from the three largest rivers (Sagavanirktok, Kuparuk, and Colville) that drain Alaska's North Slope and discusses the potential importance of river inputs for biological production in coastal waters of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. Together these rivers export ?297,000 metric tons of organic carbon and ?18,000 metric tons of organic nitrogen each year. Annual fluxes of nitrate-N, ammonium-N, and soluble reactive phosphorus are approximately 1750, 200, and 140 metric tons per year, respectively. Constituent export from Alaska's North Slope is dominated by the Colville River. This is in part due to its larger size, but also because constituent yields are greater in the Colville watershed. River-supplied nitrogen may be more important to productivity along the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast than previously thought. However, given the dominance of organic nitrogen export, the potential role of river-supplied nitrogen in support of primary production depends strongly on remineralization mechanisms. Although rivers draining the North Slope of Alaska make only a small contribution to overall river export from the pan-arctic watershed, comparisons with major arctic rivers reveal unique regional characteristics as well as remarkable similarities among different regions and scales. Such information is crucial for development of robust river export models that represent the arctic system as a whole.

publication date

  • February 2014