Organic matter stored in ice-rich permafrost: Future permafrost thaw and greenhouse gas release

loeka.jongejans [ at ]


The Arctic is changing rapidly and permafrost is thawing. Especially ice-rich permafrost, such as the late Pleistocene Yedoma, is vulnerable to rapid and deep thaw processes such as surface subsidence after the melting of ground ice. Due to permafrost thaw, the permafrost carbon pool is becoming increasingly accessible to microbes, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which enhances the climate warming. The assessment of the molecular structure and biodegradability of permafrost organic matter (OM) is highly needed. My research revolves around the question “how does permafrost thaw affect its OM storage?” More specifically, I assessed (1) how molecular biomarkers can be applied to characterize permafrost OM, (2) greenhouse gas production rates from thawing permafrost, and (3) the quality of OM of frozen and (previously) thawed sediments. I studied deep (max. 55 m) Yedoma and thawed Yedoma permafrost sediments from Yakutia (Sakha Republic). I analyzed sediment cores taken below thermokarst lakes on the Bykovsky Peninsula (southeast of the Lena Delta) and in the Yukechi Alas (Central Yakutia), and headwall samples from the permafrost cliff Sobo-Sise (Lena Delta) and the retrogressive thaw slump Batagay (Yana Uplands). I measured biomarker concentrations of all sediment samples. Furthermore, I carried out incubation experiments to quantify greenhouse gas production in thawing permafrost. I showed that the biomarker proxies are useful to assess the source of the OM and to distinguish between OM derived from terrestrial higher plants, aquatic plants and microbial activity. In addition, I showed that some proxies help to assess the degree of degradation of permafrost OM, especially when combined with sedimentological data in a multi-proxy approach. The OM of Yedoma is generally better preserved than that of thawed Yedoma sediments. The greenhouse gas production was highest in the permafrost sediments that thawed for the first time, meaning that the frozen Yedoma sediments contained most labile OM. Furthermore, I showed that the methanogenic communities had established in the recently thawed sediments, but not yet in the still-frozen sediments. My research provided the first molecular biomarker distributions and organic carbon turnover data as well as insights in the state and processes in deep frozen and thawed Yedoma sediments. These findings show the relevance of studying OM in deep permafrost sediments.

Item Type
Thesis (PhD)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Publication Status
Published online
Eprint ID
DOI 10.25932/publishup-56491

Cite as
Jongejans, L. L. (2022): Organic matter stored in ice-rich permafrost: Future permafrost thaw and greenhouse gas release / J. Strauß and G. Grosse (editors) PhD thesis, doi: 10.25932/publishup-56491

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Research Platforms

Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2017_Lena_Bykovsky
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2019_Batagay
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2019_Lena

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