skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on March 21, 2024

Title: Aquatic biomass is a major source to particulate organic matter export in large Arctic rivers
Arctic rivers provide an integrated signature of the changing landscape and transmit signals of change to the ocean. Here, we use a decade of particulate organic matter (POM) compositional data to deconvolute multiple allochthonous and autochthonous pan-Arctic and watershed-specific sources. Constraints from carbon-to-nitrogen ratios (C:N), δ 13 C, and Δ 14 C signatures reveal a large, hitherto overlooked contribution from aquatic biomass. Separation in Δ 14 C age is enhanced by splitting soil sources into shallow and deep pools (mean ± SD: −228 ± 211 vs. −492 ± 173‰) rather than traditional active layer and permafrost pools (−300 ± 236 vs. −441 ± 215‰) that do not represent permafrost-free Arctic regions. We estimate that 39 to 60% (5 to 95% credible interval) of the annual pan-Arctic POM flux (averaging 4,391 Gg/y particulate organic carbon from 2012 to 2019) comes from aquatic biomass. The remainder is sourced from yedoma, deep soils, shallow soils, petrogenic inputs, and fresh terrestrial production. Climate change-induced warming and increasing CO 2 concentrations may enhance both soil destabilization and Arctic river aquatic biomass production, increasing fluxes of POM to the ocean. Younger, autochthonous, and older soil-derived POM likely have different destinies (preferential microbial uptake and processing vs. significant sediment burial, respectively). A small (~7%) increase in aquatic biomass POM flux with warming would be equivalent to a ~30% increase in deep soil POM flux. There is a clear need to better quantify how the balance of endmember fluxes may shift with different ramifications for different endmembers and how this will impact the Arctic system.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2230812 1914215 1913888
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Ongoing rapid arctic warming leads to extensive permafrost thaw, which in turn increases the hydrologic connectivity of the landscape by opening up subsurface flow paths. Suspended particulate organic matter (POM) has proven useful to trace permafrost thaw signals in arctic rivers, which may experience higher organic matter loads in the future due to expansion and increasing intensity of thaw processes such as thermokarst and river bank erosion. Here we focus on the Kolyma River watershed in Northeast Siberia, the world's largest watershed entirely underlain by continuous permafrost. To evaluate and characterize the present‐day fluvial release of POM from permafrost thaw, we collected water samples every 4–7 days during the 4‐month open water season in 2013 and 2015 from the lower Kolyma River mainstem and from a small nearby headwater stream (Y3) draining an area completely underlain by Yedoma permafrost (Pleistocene ice‐ and organic‐rich deposits). Concentrations of particulate organic carbon generally followed the hydrograph with the highest concentrations during the spring flood in late May/early June. For the Kolyma River, concentrations of dissolved organic carbon showed a similar behavior, in contrast to the headwater stream, where dissolved organic carbon values were generally higher and particulate organic carbon concentrations lower than for Kolyma. Carbon isotope analysis (δ13C, Δ14C) suggested Kolyma‐POM to stem from both contemporary and older permafrost sources, while Y3‐POM was more strongly influenced by in‐stream production and recent vegetation. Lipid biomarker concentrations (high‐molecular‐weightn‐alkanoic acids andn‐alkanes) did not display clear seasonal patterns, yet implied Y3‐POM to be more degraded than Kolyma‐POM.

    more » « less
  2. 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 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.

    more » « less
  3. Methane and carbon dioxide effluxes from aquatic systems in the Arctic will affect and likely amplify global change. As permafrost thaws in a warming world, more dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and greenhouse gases are produced and move from soils to surface waters where the DOC can be oxidized to CO 2 and also released to the atmosphere. Our main study objective is to measure the release of carbon to the atmosphere via effluxes of methane (CH 4 ) and carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) from Toolik Lake, a deep, dimictic, low-arctic lake in northern Alaska. By combining direct eddy covariance flux measurements with continuous gas pressure measurements in the lake surface waters, we quantified the k 600 piston velocity that controls gas flux across the air–water interface. Our measured k values for CH 4 and CO 2 were substantially above predictions from several models at low to moderate wind speeds, and only converged on model predictions at the highest wind speeds. We attribute this higher flux at low wind speeds to effects on water-side turbulence resulting from how the surrounding tundra vegetation and topography increase atmospheric turbulence considerably in this lake, above the level observed over large ocean surfaces. We combine this process-level understanding of gas exchange with the trends of a climate-relevant long-term (30 + years) meteorological data set at Toolik Lake to examine short-term variations (2015 ice-free season) and interannual variability (2010–2015 ice-free seasons) of CH 4 and CO 2 fluxes. We argue that the biological processing of DOC substrate that becomes available for decomposition as the tundra soil warms is important for understanding future trends in aquatic gas fluxes, whereas the variability and long-term trends of the physical and meteorological variables primarily affect the timing of when higher or lower than average fluxes are observed. We see no evidence suggesting that a tipping point will be reached soon to change the status of the aquatic system from gas source to sink. We estimate that changes in CH 4 and CO 2 fluxes will be constrained with a range of +30% and −10% of their current values over the next 30 years. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Rising atmospheric CO2concentrations have increased interest in the potential for forest ecosystems and soils to act as carbon (C) sinks. While soil organic C contents often vary with tree species identity, little is known about if, and how, tree species influence thestabilityof C in soil. Using a 40 year old common garden experiment with replicated plots of eleven temperate tree species, we investigated relationships between soil organic matter (SOM) stability in mineral soils and 17 ecological factors (including tree tissue chemistry, magnitude of organic matter inputs to the soil and their turnover, microbial community descriptors, and soil physicochemical properties). We measured five SOM stability indices, including heterotrophic respiration, C in aggregate occluded particulate organic matter (POM) and mineral associated SOM, and bulk SOM δ15N and ∆14C. The stability of SOM varied substantially among tree species, and this variability was independent of the amount of organic C in soils. Thus, when considering forest soils as C sinks, the stability of C stocks must be considered in addition to their size. Further, our results suggest tree species regulate soil C stability via the composition of their tissues, especially roots. Stability of SOM appeared to be greater (as indicated by higher δ15N and reduced respiration) beneath species with higher concentrations of nitrogen and lower amounts of acid insoluble compounds in their roots, while SOM stability appeared to be lower (as indicated by higher respiration and lower proportions of C in aggregate occluded POM) beneath species with higher tissue calcium contents. The proportion of C in mineral associated SOM and bulk soil ∆14C, though, were negligibly dependent on tree species traits, likely reflecting an insensitivity of some SOM pools to decadal scale shifts in ecological factors. Strategies aiming to increase soil C stocks may thus focus on particulate C pools, which can more easily be manipulated and are most sensitive to climate change.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Almost half of the global terrestrial soil carbon (C) is stored in the northern circumpolar permafrost region, where air temperatures are increasing two times faster than the global average. As climate warms, permafrost thaws and soil organic matter becomes vulnerable to greater microbial decomposition. Long‐term soil warming of ice‐rich permafrost can result in thermokarst formation that creates variability in environmental conditions. Consequently, plant and microbial proportional contributions to ecosystem respiration may change in response to long‐term soil warming. Natural abundance δ13C and Δ14C of aboveground and belowground plant material, and of young and old soil respiration were used to inform a mixing model to partition the contribution of each source to ecosystem respiration fluxes. We employed a hierarchical Bayesian approach that incorporated gross primary productivity and environmental drivers to constrain source contributions. We found that long‐term experimental permafrost warming introduced a soil hydrology component that interacted with temperature to affect old soil C respiration. Old soil C loss was suppressed in plots with warmer deep soil temperatures because they tended to be wetter. When soil volumetric water content significantly decreased in 2018 relative to 2016 and 2017, the dominant respiration sources shifted from plant aboveground and young soil respiration to old soil respiration. The proportion of ecosystem respiration from old soil C accounted for up to 39% of ecosystem respiration and represented a 30‐fold increase compared to the wet‐year average. Our findings show that thermokarst formation may act to moderate microbial decomposition of old soil C when soil is highly saturated. However, when soil moisture decreases, a higher proportion of old soil C is vulnerable to decomposition and can become a large flux to the atmosphere. As permafrost systems continue to change with climate, we must understand the thresholds that may propel these systems from a C sink to a source.

    more » « less