Long-term deglacial permafrost carbon dynamics in MPI-ESM

thomas.schneider [ at ] awi.de


We have developed a new module to calculate soil organic carbon (SOC) accumulation in perennially frozen ground in the land surface model JSBACH. Running this offline version of MPI-ESM we have modelled long-term permafrost carbon accumulation and release from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the pre-industrial (PI) age. Our simulated near-surface PI permafrost extent of 16.9 × 106 km2 is close to observational estimates. Glacial boundary conditions, especially ice sheet coverage, result in profoundly different spatial patterns of glacial permafrost extent. Deglacial warming leads to large-scale changes in soil temperatures, manifested in permafrost disappearance in southerly regions, and permafrost aggregation in formerly glaciated grid cells. In contrast to the large spatial shift in simulated permafrost occurrence, we infer an only moderate increase in total LGM permafrost area (18.3 × 106 km2) – together with pronounced changes in the depth of seasonal thaw. Earlier empirical reconstructions suggest a larger spread of permafrost towards more southerly regions under glacial conditions, but with a highly uncertain extent of non-continuous permafrost. Compared to a control simulation without describing the transport of SOC into perennially frozen ground, the implementation of our newly developed module for simulating permafrost SOC accumulation leads to a doubling of simulated LGM permafrost SOC storage (amounting to a total of ∼ 150 PgC). Despite LGM temperatures favouring a larger permafrost extent, simulated cold glacial temperatures – together with low precipitation and low CO2 levels – limit vegetation productivity and therefore prevent a larger glacial SOC build-up in our model. Changes in physical and biogeochemical boundary conditions during deglacial warming lead to an increase in mineral SOC storage towards the Holocene (168 PgC at PI), which is below observational estimates (575 PgC in continuous and discontinuous permafrost). Additional model experiments clarified the sensitivity of simulated SOC storage to model parameters, affecting long-term soil carbon respiration rates and simulated ALDs. Rather than a steady increase in carbon release from the LGM to PI as a consequence of deglacial permafrost degradation, our results suggest alternating phases of soil carbon accumulation and loss as an effect of dynamic changes in permafrost extent, ALDs, soil litter input, and heterotrophic respiration.

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DOI 10.5194/cp-14-2011-2018

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Schneider von Deimling, T. , Kleinen, T. , Hugelius, G. , Knoblauch, C. , Beer, C. and Brovkin, V. (2018): Long-term deglacial permafrost carbon dynamics in MPI-ESM , Climate of the Past, 14 (12), pp. 2011-2036 . doi: 10.5194/cp-14-2011-2018

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