Arctic Deltas: Carbon and nitrogen rich deposits in a dynamic permafrost landscape

guido.grosse [ at ]


Arctic river deltas are sensitive polar landscapes at the land-ocean interface. In contrast to lower latitude deltas, Arctic deltas are characterized by low temperatures, a strong seasonality and the presence of permafrost. Seasonal freezing conditions and underlying permafrost hinders runoff for most of the year and leads to typical land forms such as ice wedge polygons, frost mounds and thermokarst lakes. However, compared to other permafrost dominated landscapes, Arctic deltas are more dynamic. The surface morphology is changing constantly due to river ice break up and subsequent spring flooding, coastal and shoreline erosion, thaw slumping, and degradation of ice rich deposits. Deltaic sediments also tend to be highly susceptible to ground-ice aggradation, making them more ice-rich than adjacent nondeltaic landscapes. In addition, Arctic deltas will be severely affected by global climate change through sea level rise, lengthened thaw season, changing river discharge, storm surge flooding and thawing permafrost. We are therefore at risk, to face reactivation of millennia-old soil carbon and nitrogen deposits by the degradation of previously permanently frozen river delta deposits. However, there is a lack of studies on Arctic deltas and only very coarse estimates on Arctic delta carbon and nitrogen stocks exist. Here we present a new data-set of 140 soil cores, including more than 1400 samples from 17 different deltas spread across the Arctic. We combine new and legacy soil core data to estimate for the first time pan-Arctic deltaic carbon and nitrogen stocks and close a knowledge gap for deep permafrost stock estimations. We found that Arctic deltas present a significant pool for organic carbon and nitrogen, thus their change poses risks far beyond the Arctic. Permafrost thaw in such dynamic landscapes will increase nutrient transport from land to ocean with implications on Arctic near-shore zones (e.g. affecting foodwebs and biogeochemical processes) as well as increased greenhouse gas release due to large amounts of carbon and nitrogen becoming available from previously frozen ground. Our study highlights the need to better understand dynamic processes in Arctic deltas, since these vulnerable carbon and nitrogen rich deposits will be severely affected by the effects of global climate change.

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Conference (Talk)
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Research Networks
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Event Details
AGU Fall Meeting 2019, 09 Dec 2019 - 13 Dec 2019, San Francisco, USA.
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Fuchs, M. , Sachs, T. , Hugelius, G. , Frost, G. V. , Grigoriev, M. N. , Jones, B. M. , Nitze, I. , Palmtag, J. , Overduin, P. P. , Ping, C. L. , Rivkina, E. , Schirrmeister, L. , Schwamborn, G. , Siewert, M. B. , Strauss, J. , Veremeeva, A. , Zubrzycki, S. and Grosse, G. (2019): Arctic Deltas: Carbon and nitrogen rich deposits in a dynamic permafrost landscape , AGU Fall Meeting 2019, San Francisco, USA, 9 December 2019 - 13 December 2019 .

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