Shifts in Plankton, Nutrient and Light Relationships in Small Tundra Lakes Caused by Localized Permafrost Thaw


  • Megan S. Thompson
  • Frederick J. Wrona
  • Terry D. Prowse



tundra lakes, permafrost thaw, shoreline retrogressive thaw slump, phosphorus, nitrogen, organic carbon, chlorophyll a, bacterioplankton, UV light, photosynthetically active radiation


Tundra lakes located in the Mackenzie Delta uplands, NWT, Canada, are increasingly being affected by permafrost thaw in the form of shoreline retrogressive thaw slumping. This form of thaw-induced disturbance is used as a surrogate indicator of landscape-related disturbance linked to regional climate warming. We compared 22 lakes, half affected by thaw slumping and half unaffected, to determine whether water column nutrient concentrations, light availability, and plankton biomass differed between these two lake types. Total phosphorus (TP), total dissolved nitrogen (TDN), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and chlorophyll a concentrations were higher in unaffected lakes than in slump-affected lakes. Absorbance related to water colour of both UV and photosynthetically active radiation in the water column was also higher in unaffected lakes, but bacterioplankton abundance was not different between lake types. UV light absorbance was found to be the best predictor of pelagic chlorophyll a concentrations in unaffected lakes, whereas TDN (and to a lesser extent TP) were the best predictors of pelagic chlorophyll a in slump-affected lakes. These findings indicate that slumping arising from permafrost thaw produces a shift in tundra lake nutrient, light, and phytoplankton relationships. Given the projections of continued warming, this result has significant implications for the future biogeochemical and ecological states of Arctic tundra lakes.