Carbon cycle models suggest that past warming events in the Arctic may have caused large-scale permafrost thaw and carbon remobilization, thus affecting atmospheric CO2 levels. However, observational records are sparse, preventing spatially extensive and time-continuous reconstructions of permafrost carbon release during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Using carbon isotopes and biomarkers, we demonstrate that the three most recent warming events recorded in Greenland ice cores-(i) Dansgaard-Oeschger event 3 (~28 ka B.P.), (ii) Bølling-Allerød (14.7 to 12.9 ka B.P.), and (iii) early Holocene (~11.7 ka B.P.)-caused massive remobilization and carbon degradation from permafrost across northeast Siberia. This amplified permafrost carbon release by one order of magnitude, particularly during the last deglaciation when global sea-level rise caused rapid flooding of the land area thereafter constituting the vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Demonstration of past warming-induced release of permafrost carbon provides a benchmark for the sensitivity of these large carbon pools to changing climate.
Climate warming is expected to destabilize permafrost carbon (PF-C) by thaw-erosion and deepening of the seasonally thawed active layer and thereby promote PF-C mineralization to CO2 and CH4. A similar PF-C remobilization might have contributed to the increase in atmospheric CO2 during deglacial warming after the last glacial maximum. Using carbon isotopes and terrestrial biomarkers (?14C, d13C, and lignin phenols), this study quantifies deposition of terrestrial carbon originating from permafrost in sediments from the Chukchi Sea (core SWERUS-L2-4-PC1). The sediment core reconstructs remobilization of permafrost carbon during the late Allerød warm period starting at 13,000 cal years before present (BP), the Younger Dryas, and the early Holocene warming until 11,000 cal years BP and compares this period with the late Holocene, from 3,650 years BP until present. Dual-carbon-isotope-based source apportionment demonstrates that Ice Complex Deposit-ice- and carbon-rich permafrost from the late Pleistocene (also referred to as Yedoma)-was the dominant source of organic carbon (66 ± 8%; mean ± standard deviation) to sediments during the end of the deglaciation, with fluxes more than twice as high (8.0 ± 4.6 g·m-2·year-1) as in the late Holocene (3.1 ± 1.0 g·m-2·year-1). These results are consistent with late deglacial PF-C remobilization observed in a Laptev Sea record, yet in contrast with PF-C sources, which at that location were dominated by active layer material from the Lena River watershed. Release of dormant PF-C from erosion of coastal permafrost during the end of the last deglaciation indicates vulnerability of Ice Complex Deposit in response to future warming and sea level changes.