Soils of the Northern Circumpolar Permafrost region harbor 1,672 petagrams (Pg) (1 Pg = 1,000,000,000 kilograms) of organic carbon (OC), nearly 50 percent of the global belowground OC pool (Tarnocai and others, 2009). Of that soil OC, nearly 88 percent is presently stored in perennially frozen ground. Recent climate warming at northern latitudes has resulted in warming and thawing of permafrost in many regions (Osterkamp, 2007), which might mobilize OC stocks from associated soil reservoirs via decomposition, leaching, or erosion. Warming also has increased the magnitude and severity of wildfires in the boreal region (Turetsky and others, 2011), which might exacerbate rates of permafrost degradation relative to warming alone. Given the size and vulnerability of the soil OC pool in permafrost soils, permafrost thaw will likely function as a strong positive feedback to the climate system (Koven and others, 2011; Schaefer and others, 2011).
In this report, we report soil OC inventories from two upland fire chronosequences located near Hess Creek and Tok in Interior Alaska. We sampled organic and mineral soils in the top 2 meters (m) across a range of stand ages to evaluate the effects of wildfire and permafrost thaw on soil C dynamics. These data were used to parameterize a simple process-based fire-permafrost-carbon model, which is described in detail by O’Donnell and others (2011a, b). Model simulations examine long-term changes in soil OC storage in response to fire, permafrost thaw, and climate change. These data also have been used in other papers, including Harden and others (2012), which examines C recovery post-fire, and Johnson and others (2011), which synthesizes data within the Alaska Soil Carbon Database. Findings from these studies highlight the importance of climate and disturbance (wildfire, permafrost thaw) on soil C storage, and loss of soil C from high-latitude ecosystems.
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USGS Numbered Series
Soil data from fire and permafrost-thaw chronosequences in upland Picea mariana stands near Hess Creek and Tok, interior Alaska