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The North Slope of Alaska’s Brooks Range is underlain by continuous permafrost, but an active layer of thawed sediments develops at the tundra surface and beneath streambeds during the summer, facilitating hyporheic exchange. Our goal was to understand how active layer extent and stream geomorphology influence hyporheic exchange and nutrient chemistry. We studied two arctic tundra streams of contrasting geomorphology: a high-gradient, alluvial stream with riffle-pool sequences and a low-gradient, peat-bottomed stream with large deep pools connected by deep runs. Hyporheic exchange occurred to ~50 cm beneath the alluvial streambed and to only ~15 cm beneath the peat streambed. The thaw bulb was deeper than the hyporheic exchange zone in both stream types. The hyporheic zone was a net source of ammonium and soluble reactive phosphorus in both stream types. The hyporheic zone was a net source of nitrate in the alluvial stream, but a net nitrate sink in the peat stream. The mass flux of nutrients regenerated from the hyporheic zones in these two streams was a small portion of the surface water mass flux. Although small, hyporheic sources of regenerated nutrients help maintain the in-stream nutrient balance. If future warming in the arctic increases the depth of the thaw bulb, it may not increase the vertical extent of hyporheic exchange. The greater impacts on annual contributions of hyporheic regeneration are likely to be due to longer thawed seasons, increased sediment temperatures or changes in geomorphology.

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Copyright 2008 by the American Geophysical Union. DOI: 10.1029/2007JG000549