The relative importance of major hydrological processes on thaw season 2003 lakewater balances in the Slave River Delta, NWT, Canada, is characterized using water isotope tracers and total suspended sediment (TSS) analyses. A suite of 41 lakes from three previously recognized biogeographical zones—outer delta, mid-delta, and apex—were sampled immediately following the spring melt, during summer, and in the fall of 2003. Oxygen and hydrogen isotope compositions were evaluated in the context of an isotopic framework calculated from 2003 hydroclimatic data. Our analysis reveals that flooding from the Slave River and Great Slave Lake dominated early spring lakewater balances in outer and most mid-delta lakes, as also indicated by elevated TSS concentrations (>0.01 g L−1). In contrast, the input of snowmelt was strongest on all apex and some mid-delta lakes. After the spring melt, all delta lakes underwent heavy-isotope enrichment due to evaporation, although lakes flooded by the Slave River and Great Slave Lake during the spring freshet continued to be more depleted isotopically than those dominated by snowmelt input. The isotopic signatures of lakes with direct connections to the Slave River or Great Slave Lake varied throughout the season in response to the nature of the connection. Our findings provide the basis for identifying three groups of lakes based on the major factors that control their water balances: (1) flood-dominated (n = 10), (2) evaporation-dominated (n = 25), and (3) exchange-dominated (n = 6) lakes. Differentiation of the hydrological processes that influence Slave River Delta lakewater balances is essential for ongoing hydroecological and paleohydrological studies, and ultimately, for teasing apart the relative influences of variations in local climate and Slave River hydrology.
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Vol. 39 • No. 3