skip to main content

Title: Large stocks of peatland carbon and nitrogen are vulnerable to permafrost thaw
Northern peatlands have accumulated large stocks of organic carbon (C) and nitrogen (N), but their spatial distribution and vulnerability to climate warming remain uncertain. Here, we used machine-learning techniques with extensive peat core data ( n > 7,000) to create observation-based maps of northern peatland C and N stocks, and to assess their response to warming and permafrost thaw. We estimate that northern peatlands cover 3.7 ± 0.5 million km 2 and store 415 ± 150 Pg C and 10 ± 7 Pg N. Nearly half of the peatland area and peat C stocks are permafrost affected. Using modeled global warming stabilization scenarios (from 1.5 to 6 °C warming), we project that the current sink of atmospheric C (0.10 ± 0.02 Pg C⋅y −1 ) in northern peatlands will shift to a C source as 0.8 to 1.9 million km 2 of permafrost-affected peatlands thaw. The projected thaw would cause peatland greenhouse gas emissions equal to ∼1% of anthropogenic radiative forcing in this century. The main forcing is from methane emissions (0.7 to 3 Pg cumulative CH 4 -C) with smaller carbon dioxide forcing (1 to 2 Pg CO 2 -C) and minor nitrous oxide losses. We project that initial CO 2 -C losses reverse after ∼200 y, as warming strengthens peatland C-sinks. We project substantial, but highly uncertain, additional losses of peat into fluvial systems of 10 to 30 Pg C and 0.4 to 0.9 Pg N. The combined gaseous and fluvial peatland C loss estimated here adds 30 to 50% onto previous estimates of permafrost-thaw C losses, with southern permafrost regions being the most vulnerable.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1931333 1903735
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
20438 to 20446
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Northern peatlands are a large C stock and often act as a C sink, but are susceptible to climate warming. To understand the role of peatlands in the global carbon‐climate feedback, it is necessary to accurately quantify their C stock changes and decomposition. In this study, a process‐based model, the Peatland Terrestrial Ecosystem Model, is used to simulate pan‐Arctic peatland C dynamics from 15 ka BP to 1990. To improve the accuracy of the simulation, spatially explicit water run‐on and run‐off processes were considered, four different pan‐Arctic peatland extent data sets were used, and a spatially explicit peat basal date data set was developed using a neural network approach. The model was calibrated against 2055 peat thickness observations and the parameters were interpolated to the pan‐Arctic region. Using the model, we estimate that, in 1990, the pan‐Arctic peatlands soil C stock was 396–421 Pg C, and the Holocene average C accumulation rate was 22.9 g C·m−2 yr−1. Our estimated peat permafrost development history generally agrees with multi‐proxy‐based paleo‐climate data sets and core‐derived permafrost areal dynamics. Under Anthropocene warming, in the freeze‐thaw and permafrost‐free regions, the peat C accumulation rate decreased, but it increased in permafrost regions. Our study suggests that if current permafrost regions switch to permafrost‐free conditions in a warming future, the peat C accumulation rate of the entire pan‐Arctic region will decrease, but the sink and source activities of these peatlands are still uncertain.

    more » « less
  2. Soil carbon (C) in permafrost peatlands is vulnerable to decomposition with thaw under a warming climate. The amount and form of C loss likely depends on the site hydrology following permafrost thaw, but antecedent conditions during peat accumulation are also likely important. We test the role of differing hydrologic conditions on rates of peat accumulation, permafrost formation, and response to warming at an Arctic tundra fen using a process-based model of peatland dynamics in wet and dry landscape settings that persist from peat initiation in the mid-Holocene through future simulations to 2100 CE and 2300 CE. Climate conditions for both the wet and dry landscape settings are driven by the same downscaled TraCE-21ka transient paleoclimate simulations and CCSM4 RCP8.5 climate drivers. The landscape setting controlled the rates of peat accumulation, permafrost formation and the response to climatic warming and permafrost thaw. The dry landscape scenario had high rates of initial peat accumulation (11.7 ± 3.4 mm decade −1 ) and rapid permafrost aggradation but similar total C stocks as the wet landscape scenario. The wet landscape scenario was more resilient to 21st century warming temperatures than the dry landscape scenario and showed 60% smaller C losses and 70% more new net peat C additions by 2100 CE. Differences in the modeled responses indicate the largest effect is related to the landscape setting and basin hydrology due to permafrost controls on decomposition, suggesting an important sensitivity to changing runoff patterns. These subtle hydrological effects will be difficult to capture at circumpolar scales but are important for the carbon balance of permafrost peatlands under future climate warming. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    The sources of atmospheric methane (CH4) during the Holocene remain widely debated, including the role of high latitude wetland and peatland expansion and fen-to-bog transitions. We reconstructed CH4 emissions from northern peatlands from 13,000 before present (BP) to present using an empirical model based on observations of peat initiation (>3600 14C dates), peatland type (>250 peat cores), and contemporary CH4 emissions in order to explore the effects of changes in wetland type and peatland expansion on CH4 emissions over the end of the late glacial and the Holocene. We find that fen area increased steadily before 8000 BP as fens formed in major wetland complexes. After 8000 BP, new fen formation continued but widespread peatland succession (to bogs) and permafrost aggradation occurred. Reconstructed CH4 emissions from peatlands increased rapidly between 10,600 BP and 6900 BP due to fen formation and expansion. Emissions stabilized after 5000 BP at 42 ± 25 Tg CH4 y-1 as high-emitting fens transitioned to lower-emitting bogs and permafrost peatlands. Widespread permafrost formation in northern peatlands after 1000 BP led to drier and colder soils which decreased CH4 emissions by 20% to 34 ± 21 Tg y-1 by the present day. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract. Northern peatlands have been a large C sink during the Holocene,but whether they will keep being a C sink under future climate change isuncertain. This study simulates the responses of northern peatlands tofuture climate until 2300 with a Peatland version Terrestrial EcosystemModel (PTEM). The simulations are driven with two sets of CMIP5 climate data(IPSL-CM5A-LR and bcc-csm1-1) under three warming scenarios (RCPs 2.6, 4.5 and8.5). Peatland area expansion, shrinkage, and C accumulation anddecomposition are modeled. In the 21st century, northern peatlands areprojected to be a C source of 1.2–13.3 Pg C under all climate scenariosexcept for RCP 2.6 of bcc-csm1-1 (a sink of 0.8 Pg C). During 2100–2300,northern peatlands under all scenarios are a C source under IPSL-CM5A-LRscenarios, being larger sources than bcc-csm1-1 scenarios (5.9–118.3 vs.0.7–87.6 Pg C). C sources are attributed to (1) the peatland water table depth(WTD) becoming deeper and permafrost thaw increasing decomposition rate; (2) net primary production (NPP) not increasing much as climate warms becausepeat drying suppresses net N mineralization; and (3) as WTD deepens,peatlands switching from moss–herbaceous dominated to moss–woody dominated,while woody plants require more N for productivity. Under IPSL-CM5A-LRscenarios, northern peatlands remain as a C sink until the pan-Arctic annualtemperature reaches −2.6 to −2.89 ∘C, while this threshold is −2.09to −2.35 ∘C under bcc-csm1-1 scenarios. This study predicts anorthern peatland sink-to-source shift in around 2050, earlier than previousestimates of after 2100, and emphasizes the vulnerability of northernpeatlands to climate change. 
    more » « less
  5. Amazonian peatlands store a large amount of soil organic carbon (SOC), and its fate under a future changing climate is unknown. Here, we use a process-based peatland biogeochemistry model to quantify the carbon accumulation for peatland and nonpeatland ecosystems in the Pastaza-Marañon foreland basin (PMFB) in the Peruvian Amazon from 12,000 y before present to AD 2100. Model simulations indicate that warming accelerates peat SOC loss, while increasing precipitation accelerates peat SOC accumulation at millennial time scales. The uncertain parameters and spatial variation of climate are significant sources of uncertainty to modeled peat carbon accumulation. Under warmer and presumably wetter conditions over the 21st century, SOC accumulation rate in the PMFB slows down to 7.9 (4.3–12.2) g⋅C⋅m−2⋅y−1from the current rate of 16.1 (9.1–23.7) g⋅C⋅m−2⋅y−1, and the region may turn into a carbon source to the atmosphere at −53.3 (−66.8 to −41.2) g⋅C⋅m−2⋅y−1(negative indicates source), depending on the level of warming. Peatland ecosystems show a higher vulnerability than nonpeatland ecosystems, as indicated by the ratio of their soil carbon density changes (ranging from 3.9 to 5.8). This is primarily due to larger peatlands carbon stocks and more dramatic responses of their aerobic and anaerobic decompositions in comparison with nonpeatland ecosystems under future climate conditions. Peatland and nonpeatland soils in the PMFB may lose up to 0.4 (0.32–0.52) Pg⋅C by AD 2100 with the largest loss from palm swamp. The carbon-dense Amazonian peatland may switch from a current carbon sink into a source in the 21st century.

    more » « less