Temporal and spatial trends in marine carbon isotopes in the Arctic Ocean and implications for food web studies

Camille De La Vega, Rachel Jeffreys, Robyn Tuerena, Raja Ganeshram, Claire Mahaffey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The Arctic is undergoing unprecedented environmental change. Rapid warming, decline in sea ice extent, increase in riverine input, ocean acidification and changes in primary productivity are creating a crucible for multiple concurrent environmental stressors, with unknown consequences for the entire arctic ecosystem. Here, we synthesised 30 years of data on the stable carbon isotope (δ13C) signatures in dissolved inorganic carbon (δ13C‐DIC; 1977 to 2014), marine and riverine particulate organic carbon (δ13C‐POC; 1986 to 2013) and tissues of marine mammals in the Arctic. δ13C values in consumers can change as a result of environmentally driven variation in the δ13C values at the base of the food web or alteration in the trophic structure, thus providing a method to assess the sensitivity of food webs to environmental change. Our synthesis reveals a spatially heterogeneous and temporally evolving δ13C baseline, with spatial gradients in the δ13C‐POC values between arctic shelves and arctic basins likely driven by differences in productivity and riverine and coastal influence. We report a decline in δ13C‐DIC values (‐0.011 ‰ y‐1) in the Arctic, reflecting increasing anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Arctic Ocean (i.e. Suess effect), which is larger than predicted. The larger decline in δ13C‐POC values and δ13C in arctic marine mammals reflects the anthropogenic CO2 signal as well as the influence of a changing arctic environment. Combining the influence of changing sea ice conditions and isotopic fractionation by phytoplankton, we explain the decadal decline in δ13C‐POC values in the Arctic Ocean and partially explain the δ13C values in marine mammals with consideration of time‐varying integration of δ13C values. The response of the arctic ecosystem to ongoing environmental change is stronger than we would predict theoretically, which has tremendous implications for the study of food webs in the rapidly changing Arctic Ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4116-4130
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number12
Early online date9 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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