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Extensive loss of past permafrost carbon but a net accumulation into present-day soils
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography.
Number of Authors: 32018 (English)In: Nature, ISSN 0028-0836, E-ISSN 1476-4687, Vol. 560, no 7717, p. 219-+Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increased between the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, around 21,000 years ago) and the preindustrial era(1). It is thought that the evolution of this atmospheric carbon dioxide (and that of atmospheric methane) during the glacial-to-interglacial transition was influenced by organic carbon that was stored in permafrost during the LGM and then underwent decomposition and release following thaw(2,3). It has also been suggested that the rather erratic atmospheric delta C-13 and Delta C-14 signals seen during deglaciation(1.4) could partly be explained by the presence of a large terrestrial inert LGM carbon stock, despite the biosphere being less productive (and therefore storing less carbon)(5,6). Here we present an empirically derived estimate of the carbon stored in permafrost during the LGM by reconstructing the extent and carbon content of LGM biomes, peatland regions and deep sedimentary deposits. We find that the total estimated soil carbon stock for the LGM northern permafrost region is smaller than the estimated present-day storage (in both permafrost and non-permafrost soils) for the same region. A substantial decrease in the permafrost area from the LGM to the present day has been accompanied by a roughly 400-petagram increase in the total soil carbon stock. This increase in soil carbon suggests that permafrost carbon has made no net contribution to the atmospheric carbon pool since the LGM. However, our results also indicate potential postglacial reductions in the portion of the carbon stock that is trapped in permafrost, of around 1,000 petagrams, supporting earlier studies(7). We further find that carbon has shifted from being primarily stored in permafrost mineral soils and loess deposits during the LGM, to being roughly equally divided between peatlands, mineral soils and permafrost loess deposits today.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018. Vol. 560, no 7717, p. 219-+
National Category
Physical Geography
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-160126DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0371-0ISI: 000441115200045PubMedID: 30069043OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-160126DiVA, id: diva2:1249549
Available from: 2018-09-19 Created: 2018-09-19 Last updated: 2018-09-19Bibliographically approved

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