Organic carbon characteristics in ice-rich permafrost in alas and Yedoma deposits, central Yakutia, Siberia

torben.windirsch [ at ]


Permafrost ground is one of the largest repositories of terrestrial organic carbon and might become or already is a carbon source in response to ongoing global warming. With this study of syngenetically frozen, ice-rich and organic carbon (OC)-bearing Yedoma and associated alas deposits in central Yakutia (Republic of Sakha), we aimed to assess the local sediment deposition regime and its impact on permafrost carbon storage. For this purpose, we investigated the Yukechi alas area (61.76495°N, 130.46664°E), which is a thermokarst landscape degrading into Yedoma in central Yakutia. We retrieved two sediment cores (Yedoma upland, 22.35m deep, and alas basin, 19.80m deep) in 2015 and analyzed the biogeochemistry, sedimentology, radiocarbon dates and stable isotope geochemistry. The laboratory analyses of both cores revealed very low total OC (TOC) contents (< 0.1 wt %) for a 12m section in each core, whereas the remaining sections ranged from 0.1 wt% to 2.4 wt% TOC. The core sections holding very little to no detectable OC consisted of coarser sandy material were estimated to be between 39 000 and 18 000 BP (years before present) in age. For this period, we assume the deposition of organic-poor material. Pore water stable isotope data from the Yedoma core indicated a continuously frozen state except for the surface sample, thereby ruling out Holocene reworking. In consequence, we see evidence that no strong organic matter (OM) decomposition took place in the sediments of the Yedoma core until today. The alas core from an adjacent thermokarst basin was strongly disturbed by lake development and permafrost thaw. Similar to the Yedoma core, some sections of the alas core were also OC poor (< 0.1 wt %) in 17 out of 28 samples. The Yedoma deposition was likely influenced by fluvial regimes in nearby streams and the Lena River shifting with climate. With its coarse sediments with low OC content (OC mean of 5.27 kg m-3), the Yedoma deposits in the Yukechi area differ from other Yedoma sites in North Yakutia that were generally characterized by silty sediments with higher OC contents (OC mean of 19 kg m-3 for the non-icewedge sediment). Therefore, we conclude that sedimentary composition and deposition regimes of Yedoma may differ considerably within the Yedoma domain. The resulting heterogeneity should be taken into account for future upscaling approaches on the Yedoma carbon stock. The alas core, strongly affected by extensive thawing processes during the Holocene, indicates a possible future pathway of ground subsidence and further OC decomposition for thawing central Yakutian Yedoma deposits.

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DOI 10.5194/bg-17-3797-2020

Cite as
Windirsch, T. , Grosse, G. , Ulrich, M. , Schirrmeister, L. , Fedorov, A. N. , Konstantinov, P. , Fuchs, M. , Jongejans, L. , Wolter, J. , Opel, T. and Strauss, J. (2020): Organic carbon characteristics in ice-rich permafrost in alas and Yedoma deposits, central Yakutia, Siberia , Biogeosciences, 17 , pp. 3797-3814 . doi: 10.5194/bg-17-3797-2020


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