Potential carbon emissions dominated by carbon dioxide from thawed permafrost soils

Christina Sch'del, Martin K.F. Bader, Edward A.G. Schuur, Christina Biasi, Rosvel Bracho, Petr Capek, Sarah De Baets, Katerina Diáková, Jessica Ernakovich, Cristian Estop-Aragones, David E. Graham, Iain P. Hartley, Colleen M. Iversen, Evan Kane, Christian Knoblauch, Massimo Lupascu, Pertti J. Martikainen, Susan M. Natali, Richard J. Norby, Jonathan A. O'DonnellTaniya Roy Chowdhury, Hana Šantrucková, Gaius Shaver, Victoria L. Sloan, Claire C. Treat, Merritt R. Turetsky, Mark P. Waldro, Kimberly P. Wickland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

266 Scopus citations


Increasing temperatures in northern high latitudes are causing permafrost to thaw, making large amounts of previously frozen organic matter vulnerable to microbial decomposition. Permafrost thaw also creates a fragmented landscape of drier and wetter soil conditions that determine the amount and form (carbon dioxide (CO2), or methane (CH 4)) of carbon (C) released to the atmosphere. The rate and form of C release control the magnitude of the permafrost C feedback, so their relative contribution with a warming climate remains unclear. We quantified the effect of increasing temperature and changes from aerobic to anaerobic soil conditions using 25 soil incubation studies from the permafrost zone. Here we show, using two separate meta-analyses, that a 10 °C increase in incubation temperature increased C release by a factor of 2.0 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.8 to 2.2). Under aerobic incubation conditions, soils released 3.4 (95% CI, 2.2 to 5.2) times more C than under anaerobic conditions. Even when accounting for the higher heat trapping capacity of CH 4, soils released 2.3 (95% CI, 1.5 to 3.4) times more C under aerobic conditions. These results imply that permafrost ecosystems thawing under aerobic conditions and releasing CO2 will strengthen the permafrost C feedback more than waterlogged systems releasing CO2 and CH 4 for a given amount of C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)950-953
Number of pages4
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number10
StatePublished - Sep 28 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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