Permafrost carbon feedback (PCF) modeling has focused on gradual thaw of near-surface permafrost leading to enhanced carbon dioxide and methane emissions that accelerate global climate warming. These state-of-the-art land models have yet to incorporate deeper, abrupt thaw in the PCF. Here we use model data, supported by field observations, radiocarbon dating, and remote sensing, to show that methane and carbon dioxide emissions from abrupt thaw beneath thermokarst lakes will more than double radiative forcing from circumpolar permafrost-soil carbon fluxes this century. Abrupt thaw lake emissions are similar under moderate and high representative concentration pathways (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), but their relative contribution to the PCF is much larger under the moderate warming scenario. Abrupt thaw accelerates mobilization of deeply frozen, ancient carbon, increasing 14C-depleted permafrost soil carbon emissions by ~125-190% compared to gradual thaw alone. These findings demonstrate the need to incorporate abrupt thaw processes in earth system models for more comprehensive projection of the PCF this century.
Climate change has a disproportionally large impact on alpine soil ecosystems, leading to pronounced changes in soil microbial diversity and function associated with effects on biogeochemical processes at the local and supraregional scales. However, due to restricted accessibility, high-altitude soils remain largely understudied and a considerable heterogeneity hampers the comparability of different alpine studies. Here, we highlight differences and similarities between alpine and arctic ecosystems, and we discuss the impact of climatic variables and associated vegetation and soil properties on microbial ecology. We consider how microbial alpha-diversity, community structures and function change along altitudinal gradients and with other topographic features such as slope aspect. In addition, we focus on alpine permafrost soils, harboring a surprisingly large unknown microbial diversity and on microbial succession along glacier forefield chronosequences constituting the most thoroughly studied alpine habitat. Finally, highlighting experimental approaches, we present climate change studies showing shifts in microbial community structures and function in response to warming and altered moisture, interestingly with some contradiction. Collectively, despite harsh environmental conditions, many specially adapted microorganisms are able to thrive in alpine environments. Their community structures strongly correlate with climatic, vegetation and soil properties and thus closely mirror the complexity and small-scale heterogeneity of alpine soils.
Department of Natural Sciences and Environmental Health, Faculty of Technology, Natural Sciences and Maritime Sciences, University of South-Eastern Norway, Gullbringvegen, Bø i Telemark, Telemark, Norway.
The boundary between the boreal and arctic biomes in northwest Europe has been a matter of debate for many years. Some authors consider that the boundary is marked by the northern limit of tree growth in the northernmost Norwegian mainland. In this study we have collected air and soil temperature data from 37 heath stands from northern Finnmark (71°N), the northernmost part of the Norwegian mainland, through Bear Island (74°N) in the Barents sea, to Adventsdalen (78)°N (in Spitsbergen) in Svalbard archipelago. In Finnmark, plots both south and north of the treeline were investigated. Vegetation and soil chemistry analyses were performed on the plots in Finnmark and Svalbard. Significant decreasing south-north trends in air and soil temperatures were observed from Finnmark to Spitsbergen. Soils in Finnmark were acidic and rich in organic matter, while those on Adventsdalen were basic and poor in organic matter. Vegetational analysis identified five communities: three in Finnmark and two on Adventsdalen. The communities in Finnmark had marked mutual similarities but were very different from those on Adventsdalen. No significant ecological differences between heaths south and north of the treeline in Finnmark were observed. Air and soil temperature variables in Finnmark were outside the recognized range for the arctic biome and inconsistent with the presence of permafrost both south and north of the treeline. A major difference between Finnmark and Spitsbergen was amount of soil frost and length of the growing season. Our results suggest that the boreal biome extends all the way to the north coast of mainland Norway; and previously used division of heaths in Finnmark into boreal, alpine and arctic biomes is not justified.
Climate warming can result in both abiotic (e.g., permafrost thaw) and biotic (e.g., microbial functional genes) changes in Arctic tundra. Recent research has incorporated dynamic permafrost thaw in Earth system models (ESMs) and indicates that Arctic tundra could be a significant future carbon (C) source due to the enhanced decomposition of thawed deep soil C. However, warming-induced biotic changes may influence biologically related parameters and the consequent projections in ESMs. How model parameters associated with biotic responses will change under warming and to what extent these changes affect projected C budgets have not been carefully examined. In this study, we synthesized six data sets over 5 years from a soil warming experiment at the Eight Mile Lake, Alaska, into the Terrestrial ECOsystem (TECO) model with a probabilistic inversion approach. The TECO model used multiple soil layers to track dynamics of thawed soil under different treatments. Our results show that warming increased light use efficiency of vegetation photosynthesis but decreased baseline (i.e., environment-corrected) turnover rates of SOC in both the fast and slow pools in comparison with those under control. Moreover, the parameter changes generally amplified over time, suggesting processes of gradual physiological acclimation and functional gene shifts of both plants and microbes. The TECO model predicted that field warming from 2009 to 2013 resulted in cumulative C losses of 224 or 87 g/m2 , respectively, without or with changes in those parameters. Thus, warming-induced parameter changes reduced predicted soil C loss by 61%. Our study suggests that it is critical to incorporate biotic changes in ESMs to improve the model performance in predicting C dynamics in permafrost regions.
Ice-wedge polygon peatlands contain a substantial part of the carbon stored in permafrost soils. However, little is known about their long-term carbon accumulation rates (CAR) in relation to shifts in vegetation and climate. We collected four peat profiles from one single polygon in NE Yakutia and cut them into contiguous 0.5 cm slices. Pollen density interpolation between AMS (14)C dated levels provided the time span contained in each of the sample slices, which--in combination with the volumetric carbon content--allowed for the reconstruction of CAR over decadal and centennial timescales. Vegetation representing dry palaeo-ridges and wet depressions was reconstructed with detailed micro- and macrofossil analysis. We found repeated shifts between wet and dry conditions during the past millennium. Dry ridges with associated permafrost growth originated during phases of (relatively) warm summer temperature and collapsed during relatively cold phases, illustrating the important role of vegetation and peat as intermediaries between ambient air temperature and the permafrost. The average long-term CAR across the four profiles was 10.6 ? 5.5 g C m(-2) yr(-1). Time-weighted mean CAR did not differ significantly between wet depression and dry ridge/hummock phases (10.6 ? 5.2 g C m(-2) yr(-1) and 10.3 ? 5.7 g C m(-2) yr(-1), respectively). Although we observed increased CAR in relation to warm shifts, we also found changes in the opposite direction and the highest CAR actually occurred during the Little Ice Age. In fact, CAR rather seems to be governed by strong internal feedback mechanisms and has roughly remained stable on centennial time scales. The absence of significant differences in CAR between dry ridge and wet depression phases suggests that recent warming and associated expansion of shrubs will not affect long-term rates of carbon burial in ice-wedge polygon peatlands.
Apparent quantum yields of carbon monoxide (CO) photoproduction (AQY(CO)) for permafrost-derived soil dissolved organic matter (SDOM) from the Yukon River Basin and Alaska coast were determined to examine the dependences of AQY(CO) on temperature, ionic strength, pH, and SDOM concentration. SDOM from different locations and soil depths all exhibited similar AQY(CO) spectra irrespective of soil age. AQY(CO) increased by 68% for a 20 °C warming, decreased by 25% from ionic strength 0 to 0.7 mol L(-1), and dropped by 25-38% from pH 4 to 8. These effects combined together could reduce AQY(CO) by up to 72% when SDOM transits from terrestrial environemnts to open-ocean conditions during summer in the Arctic. A Michaelis-Menten kinetics characterized the influence of SDOM dilution on AQY(CO) with a very low substrate half-saturation concentration. Generalized global-scale relationships between AQY(CO) and salinity and absorbance demostrate that the CO-based photoreactivity of ancient permaforst SDOM is comparable to that of modern riverine DOM and that the effects of the physicochemical variables revealed here alone could account for the seaward decline of AQY(CO) observed in diverse estuarine and coastal water bodies.
Large quantities of organic carbon are stored in frozen soils (permafrost) within Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. A warming climate can induce environmental changes that accelerate the microbial breakdown of organic carbon and the release of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. This feedback can accelerate climate change, but the magnitude and timing of greenhouse gas emission from these regions and their impact on climate change remain uncertain. Here we find that current evidence suggests a gradual and prolonged release of greenhouse gas emissions in a warming climate and present a research strategy with which to target poorly understood aspects of permafrost carbon dynamics.
Methanogenic archaea are widespread anaerobic microorganisms responsible for the production of biogenic methane. Several new species of psychrotolerant methanogenic archaea were recently isolated from a permafrost-affected soil in the Lena Delta (Siberia, Russia), showing an exceptional resistance against desiccation, osmotic stress, low temperatures, starvation, UV and ionizing radiation when compared to methanogens from non-permafrost environments. To gain a deeper insight into the differences observed in their resistance, we described the chemical composition of methanogenic strains from permafrost and non-permafrost environments using confocal Raman microspectroscopy (CRM). CRM is a powerful tool for microbial identification and provides fingerprint-like information about the chemical composition of the cells. Our results show that the chemical composition of methanogens from permafrost-affected soils presents a high homology and is remarkably different from strains inhabiting non-permafrost environments. In addition, we performed a phylogenetic reconstruction of the studied strains based on the functional gene mcrA to prove the different evolutionary relationship of the permafrost strains. We conclude that the permafrost methanogenic strains show a convergent chemical composition regardless of their genotype. This fact is likely to be the consequence of a complex adaptive process to the Siberian permafrost environment and might be the reason underlying their resistant nature.
Permafrost peatlands are biogeochemical hot spots in the Arctic as they store vast amounts of carbon. Permafrost thaw could release part of these long-term immobile carbon stocks as the greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and methane (CH4 ) to the atmosphere, but how much, at which time-span and as which gaseous carbon species is still highly uncertain. Here we assess the effect of permafrost thaw on GHG dynamics under different moisture and vegetation scenarios in a permafrost peatland. A novel experimental approach using intact plant-soil systems (mesocosms) allowed us to simulate permafrost thaw under near-natural conditions. We monitored GHG flux dynamics via high-resolution flow-through gas measurements, combined with detailed monitoring of soil GHG concentration dynamics, yielding insights into GHG production and consumption potential of individual soil layers. Thawing the upper 10-15 cm of permafrost under dry conditions increased CO2 emissions to the atmosphere (without vegetation: 0.74 ± 0.49 vs. 0.84 ± 0.60 g CO2 -C m-2 day-1 ; with vegetation: 1.20 ± 0.50 vs. 1.32 ± 0.60 g CO2 -C m-2 day-1 , mean ± SD, pre- and post-thaw, respectively). Radiocarbon dating (14 C) of respired CO2 , supported by an independent curve-fitting approach, showed a clear contribution (9%-27%) of old carbon to this enhanced post-thaw CO2 flux. Elevated concentrations of CO2 , CH4 , and dissolved organic carbon at depth indicated not just pulse emissions during the thawing process, but sustained decomposition and GHG production from thawed permafrost. Oxidation of CH4 in the peat column, however, prevented CH4 release to the atmosphere. Importantly, we show here that, under dry conditions, peatlands strengthen the permafrost-carbon feedback by adding to the atmospheric CO2 burden post-thaw. However, as long as the water table remains low, our results reveal a strong CH4 sink capacity in these types of Arctic ecosystems pre- and post-thaw, with the potential to compensate part of the permafrost CO2 losses over longer timescales.