Access to reliable hydrologic and hydrochemical data is of paramount importance for accurately understanding and modeling ongoing change in the Arctic hydrologic cycle under a warming climate. Recent studies have shown that the availability of and accessibility to such data is limited, and also declining, for some Arctic areas. In particular, there is a lack of consistent monitoring of water chemistry. At the same time, there is little information on where and which data gaps are most critical.
In light of the present decline of monitoring, it is important to compile and quantify the hydrological and water chemistry monitoring in the Arctic. It is further important to investigate whether there are any systematic differences in characteristics between monitored and unmonitored areas draining to the Arctic Ocean, as such biases might limit the ability of models to accurately predict hydrologic behavior across basins with different properties.
We present a quantitative assessment of all openly available monitoring data for water discharge and important water chemistry parameters (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment) in the pan-Arctic drainage basin.
Openly accessible pan-Arctic monitoring data were assembled from various databases for discharge and water chemistry, and monitoring station locations were co-referenced to a 30-minute simulated topological network. This allowed the construction of a geographically distributed representation of the temporal and spatial extent of monitoring. By linking this information with spatially distributed basin properties, differences in characteristics between monitored and unmonitored areas were analyzed. Finally, spatial patterns in the recent decline of discharge monitoring were compared with recently observed and projected future temperature trends.
Results indicate significant disparity in the spatial and temporal distribution of monitoring data, in particular for water chemistry monitoring, which is both spatially and temporally much less extensive than discharge monitoring. Additionally, there are systematic differences between the characteristics of monitored and unmonitored areas, within and between the different continents in the pan-Arctic drainage basin. The decline in network density has been greatest in four Eurasian basins. In these areas, recent observational temperature trends have been the smallest, while climate models predict the greatest future increases in these areas.
The scarcity of water chemical data and the systematic differences in characteristics between monitored and unmonitored basins may limit the reliability of assessments of Arctic water and hydrochemical flux changes under a warming climate. Observed and modeled climate trends exhibit diverging spatial patterns, which makes it difficult to determine whether the basins with the greatest decline in discharge monitoring density are really the ones that will experience the greatest future temperature change. Arctic monitoring needs to be extended in certain areas to enable reliable characterization of hydrologic and hydro-chemical variability and change in the region.