Potential carbon emissions dominated by carbon dioxide from thawed permafrost soils

Nature Climate Change
By: , and 

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Abstract

Increasing temperatures in northern high latitudes are causing permafrost to thaw, making large amounts of previously frozen organic matter vulnerable to microbial decomposition. Permafrost thaw also creates a fragmented landscape of drier and wetter soil conditions that determine the amount and form (carbon dioxide (CO2), or methane (CH4)) of carbon (C) released to the atmosphere. The rate and form of C release control the magnitude of the permafrost C feedback, so their relative contribution with a warming climate remains unclear. We quantified the effect of increasing temperature and changes from aerobic to anaerobic soil conditions using 25 soil incubation studies from the permafrost zone. Here we show, using two separate meta-analyses, that a 10°C increase in incubation temperature increased C release by a factor of 2.0 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.8 to 2.2). Under aerobic incubation conditions, soils released 3.4 (95% CI, 2.2 to 5.2) times more C than under anaerobic conditions. Even when accounting for the higher heat trapping capacity of CH4, soils released 2.3 (95% CI, 1.5 to 3.4) times more C under aerobic conditions. These results imply that permafrost ecosystems thawing under aerobic conditions and releasing CO2 will strengthen the permafrost C feedback more than waterlogged systems releasing CO2 and CH4 for a given amount of C.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Potential carbon emissions dominated by carbon dioxide from thawed permafrost soils
Series title Nature Climate Change
DOI 10.1038/nclimate3054
Volume 6
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Nature
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 4 p.
First page 950
Last page 953