Rapid Fluvio-Thermal Erosion of a Yedoma Permafrost Cliff in the Lena River Delta

matthias.fuchs [ at ] awi.de


The degradation of ice-rich permafrost deposits has the potential to release large amounts of previously freeze-locked carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) with local implications, such as affecting riverine and near-shore ecosystems, but also global impacts such as the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Here, we study the rapid erosion of the up to 27.7 m high and 1,660 m long Sobo-Sise yedoma cliff in the Lena River Delta using a remote sensing-based time-series analysis covering 53 years and calculate the mean annual sediment as well as C and N release into the Lena River. We find that the Sobo-Sise yedoma cliff, which exposes ice-rich late Pleistocene to Holocene deposits, had a mean long-term (1965–2018) erosion rate of 9.1 m yr–1 with locally and temporally varying rates of up to 22.3 m yr–1. These rates are among the highest measured erosion rates for permafrost coastal and river shoreline stretches. The fluvio-thermal erosion led to the release of substantial amounts of C (soil organic carbon and dissolved organic carbon) and N to the river system. On average, currently at least 5.2 × 106 kg organic C and 0.4 × 106 kg N were eroded annually (2015–2018) into the Lena River. The observed sediment and organic matter erosion was persistent over the observation period also due to the specific configuration of river flow direction and cliff shore orientation. Our observations highlight the importance to further study rapid fluvio-thermal erosion processes in the permafrost region, also because our study shows increasing erosion rates at Sobo-Sise Cliff in the most recent investigated time periods. The organic C and N transport from land to river and eventually to the Arctic Ocean from this and similar settings may have severe implications on the biogeochemistry and ecology of the near-shore zone of the Laptev Sea as well as for turnover and rapid release of old C and N to the atmosphere.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Research Networks
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.3389/feart.2020.00336

Cite as
Fuchs, M. , Nitze, I. , Strauss, J. , Günther, F. , Wetterich, S. , Kizyakov, A. , Fritz, M. , Opel, T. , Grigoriev, M. N. , Maksimov, G. T. and Grosse, G. (2020): Rapid Fluvio-Thermal Erosion of a Yedoma Permafrost Cliff in the Lena River Delta , Frontiers in Earth Science, 8 (336) . doi: 10.3389/feart.2020.00336

[thumbnail of feart-08-00336(1).pdf]

Download (6MB) | Preview

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Geographical region

Research Platforms


Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2014_Lena_Sobo-Byk
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2015_Lena
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2016_Lena
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2018_Lena_Sobo-Sise
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2019_Lena

Funded by

Edit Item Edit Item