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  1. Abstract

    Flooding of low-lying Arctic regions has the potential to warm and thaw permafrost by changing the surface reflectance of solar insolation, increasing subsurface soil moisture, and increasing soil thermal conductivity. However, the impact of flooding on permafrost in the continuous permafrost environment remains poorly understood. To address this knowledge gap, we used a combination of available flooding data on the Ikpikpuk delta and a numerical model to simulate the hydro-thermal processes under coastal floodplain flooding. We first constructed the three most common flood events based on water level data on the Ikpikpuk: snowmelt floods in the late spring and early summer, middle and late summer floods, and floods throughout the whole spring and summer. Then the impact of these flooding events on the permafrost was simulated for one-dimensional permafrost columns using the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATSv1.0), a fully coupled permafrost-hydrology and thermal dynamic model. Our results show that coastal floods have an important impact on coastal permafrost dynamics with a cooling effect on the surficial soil and a warming effect on the deeper soil. Cumulative flooding events over several years can cause continuous warming of the deep subsurface but cool down the surficial layer. Flood timing is a primary control of the vertical extent of the permafrost thaw and the active layer deepening.

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  2. Abstract

    Climate warming in high‐latitude regions is thawing carbon‐rich permafrost soils, which can release carbon to the atmosphere and enhance climate warming. Using a coupled model of long‐term peatland dynamics (Holocene Peat Model, HPM‐Arctic), we quantify the potential loss of carbon with future climate warming for six sites with differing climates and permafrost histories in Northwestern Canada. We compared the net carbon balance at 2100 CE resulting from new productivity and the decomposition of active layer and newly thawed permafrost peats under RCP8.5 as a high‐end constraint. Modeled net carbon losses ranged from −3.0 kg C m−2(net loss) to +0.1 kg C m−2(net gain) between 2015 and 2100. Losses of newly thawed permafrost peat comprised 0.2%–25% (median: 1.6%) of “old” C loss, which were related to the residence time of peat in the active layer before being incorporated into the permafrost, peat temperature, and presence of permafrost. The largest C loss was from the permafrost‐free site, not from permafrost sites. C losses were greatest from depths of 0.2–1.0 m. New C added to the profile through net primary productivity between 2015 and 2100 offset ∼40% to >100% of old C losses across the sites. Differences between modeled active layer deepening and flooding following permafrost thaw resulted in very small differences in net C loss by 2100, illustrating the important role of present‐day conditions and permafrost aggradation history in controlling net C loss.

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  3. Abstract

    Thermokarst lakes accelerate deep permafrost thaw and the mobilization of previously frozen soil organic carbon. This leads to microbial decomposition and large releases of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) that enhance climate warming. However, the time scale of permafrost-carbon emissions following thaw is not well known but is important for understanding how abrupt permafrost thaw impacts climate feedback. We combined field measurements and radiocarbon dating of CH4ebullition with (a) an assessment of lake area changes delineated from high-resolution (1–2.5 m) optical imagery and (b) geophysical measurements of thaw bulbs (taliks) to determine the spatiotemporal dynamics of hotspot-seep CH4ebullition in interior Alaska thermokarst lakes. Hotspot seeps are characterized as point-sources of high ebullition that release14C-depleted CH4from deep (up to tens of meters) within lake thaw bulbs year-round. Thermokarst lakes, initiated by a variety of factors, doubled in number and increased 37.5% in area from 1949 to 2009 as climate warmed. Approximately 80% of contemporary CH4hotspot seeps were associated with this recent thermokarst activity, occurring where 60 years of abrupt thaw took place as a result of new and expanded lake areas. Hotspot occurrence diminished with distance from thermokarst lake margins. We attribute older14C ages of CH4released from hotspot seeps in older, expanding thermokarst lakes (14CCH420 079 ± 1227 years BP, mean ± standard error (s.e.m.) years) to deeper taliks (thaw bulbs) compared to younger14CCH4in new lakes (14CCH48526 ± 741 years BP) with shallower taliks. We find that smaller, non-hotspot ebullition seeps have younger14C ages (expanding lakes 7473 ± 1762 years; new lakes 4742 ± 803 years) and that their emissions span a larger historic range. These observations provide a first-order constraint on the magnitude and decadal-scale duration of CH4-hotspot seep emissions following formation of thermokarst lakes as climate warms.

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  4. Abstract

    The magnitude of future emissions of greenhouse gases from the northern permafrost region depends crucially on the mineralization of soil organic carbon (SOC) that has accumulated over millennia in these perennially frozen soils. Many recent studies have used radiocarbon (14C) to quantify the release of this “old” SOC as CO2or CH4to the atmosphere or as dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC) to surface waters. We compiled ~1,90014C measurements from 51 sites in the northern permafrost region to assess the vulnerability of thawing SOC in tundra, forest, peatland, lake, and river ecosystems. We found that growing season soil14C‐CO2emissions generally had a modern (post‐1950s) signature, but that well‐drained, oxic soils had increased CO2emissions derived from older sources following recent thaw. The age of CO2and CH4emitted from lakes depended primarily on the age and quantity of SOC in sediments and on the mode of emission, and indicated substantial losses of previously frozen SOC from actively expanding thermokarst lakes. Increased fluvial export of aged DOC and POC occurred from sites where permafrost thaw caused soil thermal erosion. There was limited evidence supporting release of previously frozen SOC as CO2, CH4, and DOC from thawing peatlands with anoxic soils. This synthesis thus suggests widespread but not universal release of permafrost SOC following thaw. We show that different definitions of “old” sources among studies hamper the comparison of vulnerability of permafrost SOC across ecosystems and disturbances. We also highlight opportunities for future14C studies in the permafrost region.

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    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. 
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