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Title: Detecting the permafrost carbon feedback: talik formation and increased cold-season respiration as precursors to sink-to-source transitions

Abstract. Thaw and release of permafrost carbon (C) due to climate change is likely tooffset increased vegetation C uptake in northern high-latitude (NHL)terrestrial ecosystems. Models project that this permafrost C feedback mayact as a slow leak, in which case detection and attribution of the feedbackmay be difficult. The formation of talik, a subsurface layer of perenniallythawed soil, can accelerate permafrost degradation and soil respiration,ultimately shifting the C balance of permafrost-affected ecosystems fromlong-term C sinks to long-term C sources. It is imperative to understand andcharacterize mechanistic links between talik, permafrost thaw, andrespiration of deep soil C to detect and quantify the permafrost C feedback.Here, we use the Community Land Model (CLM) version 4.5, a permafrost andbiogeochemistry model, in comparison to long-term deep borehole data alongNorth American and Siberian transects, to investigate thaw-driven C sourcesin NHL (>55N) from 2000 to 2300. Widespread talik at depth isprojected across most of the NHL permafrost region(14million km2) by 2300, 6.2million km2 of which isprojected to become a long-term C source, emitting 10Pg C by 2100,50Pg C by 2200, and 120Pg C by 2300, with few signs ofslowing. Roughly half of the projected C source region is in predominantlywarm sub-Arctic permafrost following talik onset. This region emits only20Pg C by 2300, but more » the CLM4.5 estimate may be biased low by notaccounting for deep C in yedoma. Accelerated decomposition of deep soilC following talik onset shifts the ecosystem C balance away from surfacedominant processes (photosynthesis and litter respiration), butsink-to-source transition dates are delayed by 20–200 years by highecosystem productivity, such that talik peaks early (2050s, although boreholedata suggest sooner) and C source transition peaks late(2150–2200). The remaining C source region in cold northern Arcticpermafrost, which shifts to a net source early (late 21st century), emits5 times more C (95Pg C) by 2300, and prior to talik formation dueto the high decomposition rates of shallow, young C in organic-rich soilscoupled with low productivity. Our results provide important clues signalingimminent talik onset and C source transition, including (1) late cold-season(January–February) soil warming at depth (2m),(2) increasing cold-season emissions (November–April), and (3) enhancedrespiration of deep, old C in warm permafrost and young, shallow C in organic-rich cold permafrost soils. Our results suggest a mosaic of processes thatgovern carbon source-to-sink transitions at high latitudes and emphasize theurgency of monitoring soil thermal profiles, organic C age and content, cold-season CO2 emissions, andatmospheric 14CO2 as key indicatorsof the permafrost C feedback.

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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
The Cryosphere
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
123 to 144
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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