Long-term CO2 production following permafrost thaw

Bo Elberling, Anders Michelsen, Christina Schädel, Edward A.G. Schuur, Hanne H. Christiansen, Louise Berg, Mikkel P. Tamstorf, Charlotte Sigsgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

175 Scopus citations


Thawing permafrost represents a poorly understood feedback mechanism of climate change in the Arctic, but with a potential impact owing to stored carbon being mobilized. We have quantified the long-term loss of carbon (C) from thawing permafrost in Northeast Greenland from 1996 to 2008 by combining repeated sediment sampling to assess changes in C stock and >12 years of CO2 production in incubated permafrost samples. Field observations show that the active-layer thickness has increased by >1 cm yr -1 but thawing has not resulted in a detectable decline in C stocks. Laboratory mineralization rates at 5°C resulted in a C loss between 9 and 75%, depending on drainage, highlighting the potential of fast mobilization of permafrost C under aerobic conditions, but also that C at near-saturated conditions may remain largely immobilized over decades. This is confirmed by a three-pool C dynamics model that projects a potential C loss between 13 and 77% for 50 years of incubation at 5°C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-894
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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