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  1. Abstract

    Understanding methane (CH4) emission from thermokarst lakes is crucial for predicting the impacts of abrupt thaw on the permafrost carbon-climate feedback. However, observational evidence, especially from high-altitude permafrost regions, is still scarce. Here, by combining field surveys, radio- and stable-carbon isotopic analyses, and metagenomic sequencing, we present multiple characteristics of CH4emissions from 120 thermokarst lakes in 30 clusters along a 1100 km transect on the Tibetan Plateau. We find that thermokarst lakes have high CH4emissions during the ice-free period (13.4 ± 1.5 mmol m−2d−1; mean ± standard error) across this alpine permafrost region. Ebullition constitutes 84% of CH4emissions, which are fueled primarily by young carbon decomposition through the hydrogenotrophic pathway. The relative abundances of methanogenic genes correspond to the observed CH4fluxes. Overall, multiple parameters obtained in this study provide benchmarks for better predicting the strength of permafrost carbon-climate feedback in high-altitude permafrost regions.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  2. Abstract Nitrogen regulates multiple aspects of the permafrost climate feedback, including plant growth, organic matter decomposition, and the production of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Despite its importance, current estimates of permafrost nitrogen are highly uncertain. Here, we compiled a dataset of >2000 samples to quantify nitrogen stocks in the Yedoma domain, a region with organic-rich permafrost that contains ~25% of all permafrost carbon. We estimate that the Yedoma domain contains 41.2 gigatons of nitrogen down to ~20 metre for the deepest unit, which increases the previous estimate for the entire permafrost zone by ~46%. Approximately 90% of this nitrogen (37 gigatons) is stored in permafrost and therefore currently immobile and frozen. Here, we show that of this amount, ¾ is stored >3 metre depth, but if partially mobilised by thaw, this large nitrogen pool could have continental-scale consequences for soil and aquatic biogeochemistry and global-scale consequences for the permafrost feedback. 
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  3. Climate change is an existential threat to the vast global permafrost domain. The diverse human cultures, ecological communities, and biogeochemical cycles of this tenth of the planet depend on the persistence of frozen conditions. The complexity, immensity, and remoteness of permafrost ecosystems make it difficult to grasp how quickly things are changing and what can be done about it. Here, we summarize terrestrial and marine changes in the permafrost domain with an eye toward global policy. While many questions remain, we know that continued fossil fuel burning is incompatible with the continued existence of the permafrost domain as we know it. If we fail to protect permafrost ecosystems, the consequences for human rights, biosphere integrity, and global climate will be severe. The policy implications are clear: the faster we reduce human emissions and draw down atmospheric CO 2 , the more of the permafrost domain we can save. Emissions reduction targets must be strengthened and accompanied by support for local peoples to protect intact ecological communities and natural carbon sinks within the permafrost domain. Some proposed geoengineering interventions such as solar shading, surface albedo modification, and vegetation manipulations are unproven and may exacerbate environmental injustice without providing lasting protection. Conversely, astounding advances in renewable energy have reopened viable pathways to halve human greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and effectively stop them well before 2050. We call on leaders, corporations, researchers, and citizens everywhere to acknowledge the global importance of the permafrost domain and work towards climate restoration and empowerment of Indigenous and immigrant communities in these regions. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Large stocks of soil organic carbon (SOC) have accumulated in the Northern Hemisphere permafrost region, but their current amounts and future fate remain uncertain. By analyzing dataset combining >2700 soil profiles with environmental variables in a geospatial framework, we generated spatially explicit estimates of permafrost-region SOC stocks, quantified spatial heterogeneity, and identified key environmental predictors. We estimated that 1014 − 175 + 194 Pg C are stored in the top 3 m of permafrost region soils. The greatest uncertainties occurred in circumpolar toe-slope positions and in flat areas of the Tibetan region. We found that soil wetness index and elevation are the dominant topographic controllers and surface air temperature (circumpolar region) and precipitation (Tibetan region) are significant climatic controllers of SOC stocks. Our results provide first high-resolution geospatial assessment of permafrost region SOC stocks and their relationships with environmental factors, which are crucial for modeling the response of permafrost affected soils to changing climate. 
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  5. Abstract

    Permafrost degradation is delivering bioavailable dissolved organic matter (DOM) and inorganic nutrients to surface water networks. While these permafrost subsidies represent a small portion of total fluvial DOM and nutrient fluxes, they could influence food webs and net ecosystem carbon balance via priming or nutrient effects that destabilize background DOM. We investigated how addition of biolabile carbon (acetate) and inorganic nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) affected DOM decomposition with 28‐day incubations. We incubated late‐summer stream water from 23 locations nested in seven northern or high‐altitude regions in Asia, Europe, and North America. DOM loss ranged from 3% to 52%, showing a variety of longitudinal patterns within stream networks. DOM optical properties varied widely, but DOM showed compositional similarity based on Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT‐ICR MS) analysis. Addition of acetate and nutrients decreased bulk DOM mineralization (i.e., negative priming), with more negative effects on biodegradable DOM but neutral or positive effects on stable DOM. Unexpectedly, acetate and nutrients triggered breakdown of colored DOM (CDOM), with median decreases of 1.6% in the control and 22% in the amended treatment. Additionally, the uptake of added acetate was strongly limited by nutrient availability across sites. These findings suggest that biolabile DOM and nutrients released from degrading permafrost may decrease background DOM mineralization but alter stoichiometry and light conditions in receiving waterbodies. We conclude that priming and nutrient effects are coupled in northern aquatic ecosystems and that quantifying two‐way interactions between DOM properties and environmental conditions could resolve conflicting observations about the drivers of DOM in permafrost zone waterways.

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