Permafrost peatlands store one-third of the total carbon (C) in the atmosphere and are increasingly vulnerable to thaw as high-latitude temperatures warm. Large uncertainties remain about C dynamics following permafrost thaw in boreal peatlands. We used a chronosequence approach to measure C stocks in forested permafrost plateaus (forest) and thawed permafrost bogs, ranging in thaw age from young (<10 years) to old (>100 years) from two interior Alaska chronosequences. Permafrost originally aggraded simultaneously with peat accumulation (syngenetic permafrost) at both sites. We found that upon thaw, C loss of the forest peat C is equivalent to ~30% of the initial forest C stock and is directly proportional to the prethaw C stocks. Our model results indicate that permafrost thaw turned these peatlands into net C sources to the atmosphere for a decade following thaw, after which post-thaw bog peat accumulation returned sites to net C sinks. It can take multiple centuries to millennia for a site to recover its prethaw C stocks; the amount of time needed for them to regain their prethaw C stocks is governed by the amount of C that accumulated prior to thaw. Consequently, these findings show that older peatlands will take longer to recover prethaw C stocks, whereas younger peatlands will exceed prethaw stocks in a matter of centuries. We conclude that the loss of sporadic and discontinuous permafrost by 2100 could result in a loss of up to 24 Pg of deep C from permafrost peatlands.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Rapid carbon loss and slow recovery following permafrost thaw in boreal peatlands|
|Series title||Global Change Biology|
|Contributing office(s)||Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center|