Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia

J. E. Vonk, L. Sanchez-Garca, B. E. Van Dongen, V. Alling, D. Kosmach, A. Charkin, Igor Petrovich Semiletov, Oleg Victorovich Dudarev, Natalia Evgenievna Shakhova, P. Roos, T. I. Eglinton, A. Andersson, A. Gustafsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

The future trajectory of greenhouse gas concentrations depends on interactions between climate and the biogeosphere. Thawing of Arctic permafrost could release significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in this century. Ancient Ice Complex deposits outcropping along the ĝ̂1/47,000- kilometre-long coastline of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), and associated shallow subsea permafrost, are two large pools of permafrost carbon, yet their vulnerabilities towards thawing and decomposition are largely unknown. Recent Arctic warming is stronger than has been predicted by several degrees, and is particularly pronounced over the coastal ESAS region. There is thus a pressing need to improve our understanding of the links between permafrost carbon and climate in this relatively inaccessible region. Here we show that extensive release of carbon from these Ice Complex deposits dominates (57ĝ€‰ ±ĝ€‰2 per cent) the sedimentary carbon budget of the ESAS, the worldĝ€™s largest continental shelf, overwhelming the marine and topsoil terrestrial components. Inverse modelling of the dual-carbon isotope composition of organic carbon accumulating in ESAS surface sediments, using Monte Carlo simulations to account for uncertainties, suggests that 44ĝ€‰ ±ĝ€ ‰10 teragrams of old carbon is activated annually from Ice Complex permafrost, an order of magnitude more than has been suggested by previous studies. We estimate that about two-thirds (66ĝ€‰ ±ĝ€‰16 per cent) of this old carbon escapes to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, with the remainder being re-buried in shelf sediments. Thermal collapse and erosion of these carbon-rich Pleistocene coastline and seafloor deposits may accelerate with Arctic amplification of climate warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-140
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume489
Issue number7414
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes

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Siberia
Carbon
Ice
Climate
Atmosphere
Heat Exhaustion
Arctic Regions
Carbon Isotopes
Permafrost
Budgets
Carbon Dioxide
Uncertainty
Gases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Vonk, J. E., Sanchez-Garca, L., Van Dongen, B. E., Alling, V., Kosmach, D., Charkin, A., ... Gustafsson, A. (2012). Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia. Nature, 489(7414), 137-140. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11392

Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia. / Vonk, J. E.; Sanchez-Garca, L.; Van Dongen, B. E.; Alling, V.; Kosmach, D.; Charkin, A.; Semiletov, Igor Petrovich; Dudarev, Oleg Victorovich; Shakhova, Natalia Evgenievna; Roos, P.; Eglinton, T. I.; Andersson, A.; Gustafsson, A.

In: Nature, Vol. 489, No. 7414, 06.09.2012, p. 137-140.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Vonk, JE, Sanchez-Garca, L, Van Dongen, BE, Alling, V, Kosmach, D, Charkin, A, Semiletov, IP, Dudarev, OV, Shakhova, NE, Roos, P, Eglinton, TI, Andersson, A & Gustafsson, A 2012, 'Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia', Nature, vol. 489, no. 7414, pp. 137-140. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11392
Vonk JE, Sanchez-Garca L, Van Dongen BE, Alling V, Kosmach D, Charkin A et al. Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia. Nature. 2012 Sep 6;489(7414):137-140. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11392
Vonk, J. E. ; Sanchez-Garca, L. ; Van Dongen, B. E. ; Alling, V. ; Kosmach, D. ; Charkin, A. ; Semiletov, Igor Petrovich ; Dudarev, Oleg Victorovich ; Shakhova, Natalia Evgenievna ; Roos, P. ; Eglinton, T. I. ; Andersson, A. ; Gustafsson, A. / Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia. In: Nature. 2012 ; Vol. 489, No. 7414. pp. 137-140.
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