Organic carbon characteristics in yedoma and thermokarst deposits on Baldwin Peninsula, West-Alaska

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As Arctic warming continues and permafrost thaws, more soil and sedimentary organic carbon (OC) will be decomposed in northern high latitudes. Still, uncertainties remain in the quantity and quality of OC stored in different deposit types of permafrost landscapes. This study presents OC data from deep permafrost and lake deposits on the Baldwin Peninsula which is located in the southern portion of the continuous permafrost zone in West-Alaska. Sediment samples from yedoma and drained thermokarst lake basin (DTLB) deposits as well as thermokarst lake sediments were analyzed for cryostratigraphical and biogeochemical parameters and their lipid biomarker composition to identify the size and quality of belowground OC pools in ice-rich permafrost on Baldwin Peninsula. We provide the first detailed characterization of yedoma deposits on Baldwin Peninsula. We show that three quarters of soil organic carbon in the frozen deposits of the study region (total of 68 Mt) is stored in DTLB deposits (52 Mt) and one quarter in the frozen yedoma deposits (16 Mt). The lake sediments contain a relatively small OC pool (4 Mt), but have the highest volumetric OC content(93 kg m-3) compared to the DTLB (35 kg m-3) and yedoma deposits (8 kg m-3), largely due to differences in the ground ice content. The biomarker analysis indicates that the OC in both yedoma and DTLB deposits is mainly of terrestrial origin. Nevertheless, the relatively high carbon preference index of plant leaf waxes in combination with a lack of degradation trend with depth in the yedoma deposits indicates that OC stored in yedoma is less degraded than that stored in DTLB deposits. This suggests that OC in yedoma has a higher potential for decomposition upon thaw, despite the relatively small size of this pool. These findings highlight the importance of molecular OC analysis for determining the potential future greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost, especially because this area close to the discontinuous permafrost boundary is projected to thaw substantially within the 21st century.

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DOI 10.5194/bg-2018-151

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Jongejans, L. L. , Strauss, J. , Lenz, J. , Peterse, F. , Mangelsdorf, K. , Fuchs, M. and Grosse, G. (2018): Organic carbon characteristics in yedoma and thermokarst deposits on Baldwin Peninsula, West-Alaska , Biogeosciences Discussions, pp. 1-29 . doi: 10.5194/bg-2018-151

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