Soils of high latitude terrestrial ecosystems are considered key components in the global carbon cycle and hold large stores of Soil Organic Carbon (SOC). The absolute and relative sizes of labile and recalcitrant SOC pools in periglacial terrain are mostly unknown (Kuhry et al. in prep.). Such data has important policy relevance because of its impact on climate change.
We sampled soils representative of all major land cover and soil types in discontinuous permafrost terrain, European Russian Arctic. We analyzed the bulk soil characteristics including the soil humic fraction to assess the recalcitrance in organic matter quality in down-depth soil profiles.
A comprehensive stratified random soil sampling program was carried out in the Seida area during late summer 2008. From these, we selected nine sites considered representative for the landscape. Active layer and permafrost free upland soils were sampled from dug soil pits with fixed volume corers. Peat plateaus were sampled near thermally eroding edges. Permafrost soils were cored using steel pipes hammered into the frozen peat. Permafrost free fens were sampled using fixed volume Russian corers.
Radiocarbon dating was used to determine the SOC ages. The soils were analyzed for dry bulk density, elemental content, and stable isotope composition of organic C and N (δ13C, and δ15N). Further, humic acids were extracted, and the degree of humification of SOM assessed based on A600/C and ∆ log K (Ikeya and Watanabe, 2003).
Figure 1 shows soil organic matter (SOM) characteristics in a peat sequence from one of the nine described sites, a raised bog peat plateau.
The peatland first developed as a permafrost-free fen during the Holocene Hypsithermal. Permafrost only aggraded in the late Holocene. Anoxic conditions in the fen and permafrost in peat plateau stages reduced decomposition rates and the degree of humification (A600/C) is relatively constant throughout the peat deposit.
Botanical origin is a key factor in determining SOM quality, which is clearly reflected in the elemental ratio (C/N) and isotopic composition of C and N. There are sharp shifts in humification, C/N and isotopic composition at the peat/clay interface.
Ikeya, K. and Watanabe, A., 2003, Direct expression of an index for the degree of humification of humic acids using organic carbon concentration. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, 49: 47-53.
Kuhry, P., Dorrepaal, E., Hugelius G., Schuur, E.A.G. and Tarnocai C., Potential remobilization of permafrost carbon under future global warming. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, Submitted.
Third European Conference on Permafrost (EUCOP III) Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 13 -17 juni, 2010