Flux of nutrients from Russian rivers to the Arctic Ocean: Can we establish a baseline against which to judge future changes?


  • R. M. Holmes,

  • B. J. Peterson,

  • V. V. Gordeev,

  • A. V. Zhulidov,

  • M. Meybeck,

  • R. B. Lammers,

  • C. J. Vörösmarty


Climate models predict significant warming in the Arctic in the 21st century, which will impact the functioning of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as well as alter land-ocean interactions in the Arctic. Because river discharge and nutrient flux integrate large-scale processes, they should be sensitive indicators of change, but detection of future changes requires knowledge of current conditions. Our objective in this paper is to evaluate the current state of affairs with respect to estimating nutrient flux to the Arctic Ocean from Russian rivers. To this end we provide estimates of contemporary (1970s–1990s) nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate fluxes to the Arctic Ocean for 15 large Russian rivers. We rely primarily on the extensive data archives of the former Soviet Union and current Russian Federation and compare these values to other estimates and to model predictions. Large discrepancies exist among the various estimates. These uncertainties must be resolved so that the scientific community will have reliable data with which to calibrate Arctic biogeochemical models and so that we will have a baseline against which to judge future changes (either natural or anthropogenic) in the Arctic watershed.