Mineral organic carbon interactions (aggregation, organo-mineral associations and organo-metallic complexes) enhance the protection of organic carbon (OC) from microbial degradation in soils. The northern circumpolar permafrost region stores between 1,440 and 1,600 Pg OC of which a significant portion is already thawed or about to thaw in coming years. In the light of this tipping point for climate change, any mechanism that can promote OC stabilization and hence mitigate OC mineralization and greenhouse gas emissions is of crucial interest. Here, we study interactions between metals (Fe, Al, Mn and Ca) and OC in the moist acidic tundra ecosystem of Eight Mile Lake, near Healy, AK, USA. We collected thirteen cores (124 soil samples) in late summer 2019 with shallow and deep active layers (45 to 109 cm deep) and varying water table depths. We find that between 6% and 59% of total OC in Eight Mile Lake tundra soils is mineral-associated (mean 20%), in organo-mineral associations (association between poorly crystalline oxides and OC) and in organo-metallic complexes (associations between Fe, Mn, Al, Ca polyvalent cations and organic acids). We find that total Fe and Mn concentrations can be used as good proxies to assess the reactive pool of these metals able to form associations with OC, i.e., poorly crystalline oxides or metals complexed with OC. We observe that in the active layer, mineral OC interactions are mostly as organo-metallic complexes with Fe cations, with an accumulation at the water table level acting as a soil redox interface. In waterlogged soils with a water table level above surface, no such accumulation of OC-Fe complexes is found due to the absence of a redox interface below soil surface. In the permafrost layer, we find that a combination of complexed metals and poorly crystalline Fe oxides act as reactive phases towards OC. Knowing that upon permafrost thaw tundra soils will become wetter or drier, the assessment of mineral-bound OC in drier or wetter tundra soils is a needed step to better constrain the changes in the proportion of non-protected OC more likely to contribute to C emissions from tundra soils.
- Eight Mile Lake
- Metal complexation
- Mineral-associated organic carbon
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Soil Science