1 Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet2 University of Florida3 University of Hamburg4 National Center for Atmospheric Research5 University of Oklahoma6 Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA7 University of Guelph8 University of Florida9 Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet10 University of Hamburg11 National Center for Atmospheric Research12 University of Oklahoma13 University of Guelph
High-latitude ecosystems store approximately 1700 Pg of soil carbon (C), which is twice as much C as is currently contained in the atmosphere. Permafrost thaw and subsequent microbial decomposition of permafrost organic matter could add large amounts of C to the atmosphere, thereby influencing the global C cycle. The rates at which C is being released from the permafrost zone at different soil depths and across different physiographic regions are poorly understood but crucial in understanding future changes in permafrost C storage with climate change. We assessed the inherent decomposability of C from the permafrost zone by assembling a database of long-term (>1 year) aerobic soil incubations from 121 individual samples from 23 high-latitude ecosystems located across the northern circumpolar permafrost zone. Using a three-pool (i.e., fast, slow and passive) decomposition model, we estimated pool sizes for C fractions with different turnover times and their inherent decomposition rates using a reference temperature of 5 °C. Fast cycling C accounted for less than 5% of all C in both organic and mineral soils whereas the pool size of slow cycling C increased with C : N. Turnover time at 5 °C of fast cycling C typically was below 1 year, between 5 and 15 years for slow turning over C, and more than 500 years for passive C. We project that between 20 and 90% of the organic C could potentially be mineralized to CO2 within 50 incubation years at a constant temperature of 5 °C, with vulnerability to loss increasing in soils with higher C : N. These results demonstrate the variation in the vulnerability of C stored in permafrost soils based on inherent differences in organic matter decomposability, and point toward C : N as an index of decomposability that has the potential to be used to scale permafrost C loss across landscapes.
Global Change Biology, 2014, Vol 20, Issue 2, p. 641-652