Soil frost enhances stream dissolved organic carbon concentrations during episodic spring snow melt from boreal mires


Correspondence: Anneli M. Ågren, tel. + 46 90 786 8365, fax + 46 90 786 8414, e-mail:


Changes in winter time conditions at high-latitude ecosystems could severely affect the carbon exchange processes. Using a 15 year stream record combined with winter field measurements and laboratory experiment, we studied the regulation of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration in stream water draining boreal mire during snow melt. The most unanticipated finding was that cold soils with deep soil frost resulted in increased snow melt DOC concentrations in the stream runoff. Wintertime field measurements of DOC concentrations below the mire soil frost showed that this phenomenon could be explained by freeze-out of DOC giving higher levels of DOC in the soil water below the ice as the soil frost developed downwards in the mire. Experimental freezing of water with a certain DOC concentration in the laboratory further corroborated the freeze-out of DOC. In this experiment, as much as 96% of the DOC was excluded from the ice, whereas the freeze-out in the mire was less effective (60%). The difference between the proportion of DOC retained in pure water relative to the proportion retained in peat water during freezing is probably due to trapped DOC in the solid peat soil matrix. A simple mass-balance model showed that to explain the higher stream DOC concentrations during a winter with deep soil frost, approximately 0.5% of the mire area needed to be hydrologically connected to the stream discharge. In the stream records, we also found that the DOC concentrations during snow melt episodic runoff were negatively related to increasing intensity of the snow melt episodes (dilution by low DOC snow melt water) and higher previous export of DOC.