High carbon sequestration in Siberian permafrost loess-paleosols during glacials
Abstract. Recent findings show that the amount of organic carbon stored in high-latitude permafrost regions has been greatly underestimated. While concerns are rising that thawing permafrost and resultant CO2 and methane emissions are a positive feedback mechanism at times of anthropogenic global warming, the potential role of permafrost carbon dynamics on glacial-interglacial timescales has received little attention.
Here we present new results from a well-studied permafrost loess-paleosol sequence in north-east Siberia that almost spans two glacial cycles (~220 ka). We analysed the deuterium/hydrogen isotopic ratios (δD) of alkanes, which serve as proxy for paleo-temperature. Thus circumventing difficulties to obtain exact age control for such sequences, the results corroborate our previous notion that more soil organic carbon was sequestered during glacials than during interglacials. This fact highlights the role of permafrost in favouring preservation of soil organic matter. Reduced biomass production during glacials may have been of second-order importance on these timescales.
Although future studies are needed to evaluate existing large estimates of carbon dioxide releases from thawing permafrost during the last termination (>1000 Pg C), we suggest that permafrost carbon dynamics contributed to the observed glacial-interglacial variation in atmospheric CO2 and need to be included in carbon cycle and climate models.