The Yenisei river passes every type of permafrost regime, from south to north, being characterized by increasing continuity of the permafrost and by decreasing thickness of the active layer. We used that situation to test the hypothesis that amounts and properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in small streams draining forested catchments respond to different permafrost regimes. Water samples were taken from eight tributaries along the Yenisei between 67°30′N and 65°49′N latitude. The samples were analysed for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) and DOM was characterized by its chemical composition (XAD-8 fractionation, sugars, lignin phenols, amino acids, protein, UV and fluorescence spectroscopy), and its biodegradability. Most properties of the tributary waters varied depending on latitude. The higher the latitude, the higher were DOC, DON and the proportion of the hydrophobic fraction of DOC. The contribution of hexoses and pentoses to DOC were higher in southern tributaries; on the other hand, phenolic compounds were more abundant in northern tributaries. Mineralizable DOC ranged between 4% and 28% of total DOC. DOM in northern tributaries was significantly (P<0.05) less biodegradable than that in southern tributaries reflecting the differences in the chemical properties of DOM. Our results suggest that the differences in DOM properties are mainly attributed to differences of permafrost regime, affecting depth of active layer, soil organic matter accumulation and vegetation. Soil organic matter and vegetation determine the amount and composition of DOM produced in the catchments while the depth of the active layer likely controls the quantity and quality of DOM exported to streams. Sorptive interactions of DOM with the soil mineral phase typically increase with depth. The results imply that a northern shift of discontinuous permafrost likely will change in the long term the input of DOM into the Yenisei and thus probably into the Kara Sea.
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