Dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen release from boreal Holocene permafrost and seasonally frozen soils of Alaska

Environmental Research Letters
By: , and 

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Abstract

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils store vast amounts of organic carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) that are vulnerable to mobilization as dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved organic and inorganic nitrogen (DON, DIN) upon thaw. Such releases will affect the biogeochemistry of permafrost regions, yet little is known about the chemical composition and source variability of active-layer (seasonally frozen) and permafrost soil DOC, DON and DIN. We quantified DOC, total dissolved N (TDN), DON, and DIN leachate yields from deep active-layer and near-surface boreal Holocene permafrost soils in interior Alaska varying in soil C and N content and radiocarbon age to determine potential release upon thaw. Soil cores were collected at three sites distributed across the Alaska boreal region in late winter, cut in 15 cm thick sections, and deep active-layer and shallow permafrost sections were thawed and leached. Leachates were analyzed for DOC, TDN, nitrate (NO3), and ammonium (NH4 +) concentrations, dissolved organic matter optical properties, and DOC biodegradability. Soils were analyzed for C, N, and radiocarbon (14C) content. Soil DOC, TDN, DON, and DIN yields increased linearly with soil C and N content, and decreased with increasing radiocarbon age. These relationships were significantly different for active-layer and permafrost soils such that for a given soil C or N content, or radiocarbon age, permafrost soils released more DOC and TDN (mostly as DON) per gram soil than active-layer soils. Permafrost soil DOC biodegradability was significantly correlated with soil Δ14C and DOM optical properties. Our results demonstrate that near-surface Holocene permafrost soils preserve greater relative potential DOC and TDN yields than overlying seasonally frozen soils that are exposed to annual leaching and decomposition. While many factors control the fate of DOC and TDN, the greater relative yields from newly thawed Holocene permafrost soils will have the largest potential impact in areas dominated by organic-rich soils.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen release from boreal Holocene permafrost and seasonally frozen soils of Alaska
Series title Environmental Research Letters
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/aac4ad
Volume 13
Issue 6
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher IOP Publishing
Contributing office(s) WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description Article 065011; 11 p.
First page 1
Last page 11
Country United States
State Alaska