[Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, full page: (LINK). Abstract, edited.]
Rivers across the Siberian Arctic unearth the patterns of carbon release from thawing permafrost
Birgit Wild, August Andersson, Lisa Bröder, Jorien Vonk, Gustaf Hugelius, James W. McClelland, Wenjun Song, Peter A. Raymond, and Örjan Gustafsson
PNAS first published May 6, 2019 / DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811797116
Edited by Mark H. Thiemens, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, and approved March 26, 2019 (received for review July 9, 2018)
High-latitude permafrost and peat deposits contain a large reservoir of dormant carbon that, upon warming, may partly degrade to CO2 and CH4 at site and may partly enter rivers. Given the scale and heterogeneity of the Siberian Arctic, continent-wide patterns of thaw and remobilization have been challenging to constrain. This study combines a decade-long observational record of 14C in organic carbon of four large Siberian rivers with an extensive 14C source fingerprint database into a statistical model to provide a quantitative partitioning of the fraction of fluvially mobilized organic carbon that specifically stems from permafrost and peat deposits, and separately for dissolved and particulate vectors, across the Siberian Arctic, revealing distinct spatial and seasonal system patterns in carbon remobilization.
Climate warming is expected to mobilize northern permafrost and peat organic carbon (PP-C), yet magnitudes and system specifics of even current releases are poorly constrained. While part of the PP-C will degrade at point of thaw to CO2 and CH4 to directly amplify global warming, another part will enter the fluvial network, potentially providing a window to observe large-scale PP-C remobilization patterns. Here, we employ a decade-long, high-temporal resolution record of 14C in dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC, respectively) to deconvolute PP-C release in the large drainage basins of rivers across Siberia: Ob, Yenisey, Lena, and Kolyma. The 14C-constrained estimate of export specifically from PP-C corresponds to only 17 ± 8% of total fluvial organic carbon and serves as a benchmark for monitoring changes to fluvial PP-C remobilization in a warming Arctic. Whereas DOC was dominated by recent organic carbon and poorly traced PP-C (12 ± 8%), POC carried a much stronger signature of PP-C (63 ± 10%) and represents the best window to detect spatial and temporal dynamics of PP-C release. Distinct seasonal patterns suggest that while DOC primarily stems from gradual leaching of surface soils, POC reflects abrupt collapse of deeper deposits. Higher dissolved PP-C export by Ob and Yenisey aligns with discontinuous permafrost that facilitates leaching, whereas higher particulate PP-C export by Lena and Kolyma likely echoes the thermokarst-induced collapse of Pleistocene deposits. Quantitative 14C-based fingerprinting of fluvial organic carbon thus provides an opportunity to elucidate large-scale dynamics of PP-C remobilization in response to Arctic warming.
carbon cycle – climate change – radiocarbon – peat – leaching
Keywords: Climate Change; Global Warming; Permafrost; Russia.