Improved estimates show large circumpolar stocks of permafrost carbon while quantifying substantial uncertainty ranges and identifying remaining data gaps

gustaf.hugelius [ at ]


Soils and other unconsolidated deposits in the northern circumpolar permafrost region store large amounts of soil organic carbon (SOC). This SOC is potentially vulnerable to remobilization following soil warming and permafrost thaw, but stock estimates are poorly constrained and quantitative error estimates were lacking. This study presents revised estimates of the permafrost SOC pool, including quantitative uncertainty estimates, in the 0–3 m depth range in soils as well as for deeper sediments (>3 m) in deltaic deposits of major rivers and in the Yedoma region of Siberia and Alaska. The revised estimates are based on significantly larger databases compared to previous studies. Compared to previous studies, the number of individual sites/pedons has increased by a factor ×8–11 for soils in the 1–3 m depth range,, a factor ×8 for deltaic alluvium and a factor ×5 for Yedoma region deposits. Upscaled based on regional soil maps, estimated permafrost region SOC stocks are 217 ± 15 and 472 ± 34 Pg for the 0–0.3 m and 0–1 m soil depths, respectively (±95% confidence intervals). Depending on the regional subdivision used to upscale 1–3 m soils (following physiography or continents), estimated 0–3 m SOC storage is 1034 ± 183 Pg or 1104 ± 133 Pg. Of this, 34 ± 16 Pg C is stored in thin soils of the High Arctic. Based on generalised calculations, storage of SOC in deep deltaic alluvium (>3 m to ≤60 m depth) of major Arctic rivers is estimated to 91 ± 39 Pg (of which 69 ± 34 Pg is in permafrost). In the Yedoma region, estimated >3 m SOC stocks are 178 +140/−146 Pg, of which 74 +54/−57 Pg is stored in intact, frozen Yedoma (late Pleistocene ice- and organic-rich silty sediments) with the remainder in refrozen thermokarst deposits (±16/84th percentiles of bootstrapped estimates). A total estimated mean storage for the permafrost region of ca. 1300–1370 Pg with an uncertainty range of 930–1690 Pg encompasses the combined revised estimates. Of this, ≤819–836 Pg is perennially frozen. While some components of the revised SOC stocks are similar in magnitude to those previously reported for this region, there are also substantial differences in individual components. There is evidence of remaining regional data-gaps. Estimates remain particularly poorly constrained for soils in the High Arctic region and physiographic regions with thin sedimentary overburden (mountains, highlands and plateaus) as well as for >3 m depth deposits in deltas and the Yedoma region.

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DOI 10.5194/bgd-11-4771-2014

Cite as
Hugelius, G. , Strauss, J. , Zubrzycki, S. , Harden, J. W. , Schuur, E. A. G. , Ping, C. L. , Schirrmeister, L. , Grosse, G. , Michaelson, G. J. , Koven, C. D. , O'Donnell, J. A. , Eberling, B. , Mishra, U. , Camill, P. , Yu, Z. , Palmtag, J. and Kuhry, P. (2014): Improved estimates show large circumpolar stocks of permafrost carbon while quantifying substantial uncertainty ranges and identifying remaining data gaps , Biogeosciences Discussions, 11 , pp. 4771-4822 . doi: 10.5194/bgd-11-4771-2014

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