Using Stable Carbon Isotopes of Seasonal Ecosystem Respiration to Determine Permafrost Carbon Loss

M. Mauritz, G. Celis, C. Ebert, J. Hutchings, J. Ledman, S. M. Natali, E. Pegoraro, V. G. Salmon, C. Schädel, M. Taylor, E. A.G. Schuur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


High latitude warming and permafrost thaw will expose vast stores of deep soil organic carbon (SOC) to decomposition. Thaw also changes water movement causing either wetter or drier soil. The fate of deep SOC under different thaw and moisture conditions is unclear. We measured weekly growing-season δ 13 C of ecosystem respiration (Recoδ 13 C) across thaw and moisture conditions (Shallow-Dry; Deep-Dry; Deep-Wet) in a soil warming manipulation. Deep SOC loss was inferred from known δ 13 C signatures of plant shoot, root, surface soil, and deep soil respiration. In addition, a 2-year-old vegetation removal treatment (No Veg) was used to isolate surface and deep SOC decomposition contributions to Reco. In No Veg, seasonal Recoδ 13 C indicated that deep SOC loss increased as the soil column thawed, while in vegetated areas, root contributions appeared to dominate Reco. The Recoδ 13 C differences between Shallow-Dry and Deep-Dry were significant but surprisingly small. This most likely suggests that, under dry conditions, soil warming stimulates root and surface SOC respiration with a negative 13 C signature that opposes the more positive 13 C signal from increased deep SOC respiration. In Deep-Wet conditions, Recoδ 13 C suggests reduced deep SOC loss but could also reflect altered diffusion or methane (CH 4 ) dynamics. Together, these results demonstrate that frequent Recoδ 13 C measurements can detect deep SOC loss and that plants confound the signal. In future studies, soil profile δ 13 C measurements, vegetation removal across thaw gradients, and isotopic effects of CH 4 dynamics could further deconvolute deep SOC loss via surface Reco.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-60
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • carbon
  • isotope partitioning
  • permafrost
  • respiration
  • thaw
  • warming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Soil Science
  • Palaeontology
  • Ecology
  • Atmospheric Science


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