Ecosystem and soil respiration radiocarbon detects old carbon release as a fingerprint of warming and permafrost destabilization with climate change

Edward A.G. Schuur, Caitlin Hicks Pries, Marguerite Mauritz, Elaine Pegoraro, Heidi Rodenhizer, Craig See, Chris Ebert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

The permafrost region has accumulated organic carbon in cold and waterlogged soils over thousands of years and now contains three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Global warming is degrading permafrost with the potential to accelerate climate change as increased microbial decomposition releases soil carbon as greenhouse gases. A 19-year time series of soil and ecosystem respiration radiocarbon from Alaska provides long-term insight into changing permafrost soil carbon dynamics in a warmer world. Nine per cent of ecosystem respiration and 23% of soil respiration observations had radiocarbon values more than 50‰ lower than the atmospheric value. Furthermore, the overall trend of ecosystem and soil respiration radiocarbon values through time decreased more than atmospheric radiocarbon values did, indicating that old carbon degradation was enhanced. Boosted regression tree analyses showed that temperature and moisture environmental variables had the largest relative influence on lower radiocarbon values. This suggested that old carbon degradation was controlled by warming/permafrost thaw and soil drying together, as waterlogged soil conditions could protect soil carbon from microbial decomposition even when thawed. Overall, changing conditions increasingly favoured the release of old carbon, which is a definitive fingerprint of an accelerating feedback to climate change as a consequence of warming and permafrost destabilization. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'Radiocarbon in the Anthropocene'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220201
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume381
Issue number2261
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 27 2023

Keywords

  • arctic tundra
  • climate change
  • ecosystem respiration
  • isotopes
  • permafrost soil carbon
  • radiocarbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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