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Multi-proxy study of soil organic matter dynamics in permafrost peat deposits reveal vulnerability to climate change in the European Russian Arctic
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2014 (English)In: Chemical Geology, ISSN 0009-2541, E-ISSN 1872-6836, Vol. 368, 104-117 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Soil organic carbon (SOC) in permafrost terrain is vulnerable to climate change. Perennially frozen peat deposits store large amounts of SOC, but we know little about its chemical composition and lability. We used plant macrofossil and biomarker analyses to reconstruct the Holocene paleovegetation and paleoenvironmental changes in two peat plateau profiles from the European Russian Arctic. Peat plateaus are the main stores of permafrost soil C in the region, but during most of the Holocene peats developed as permafrost-free rich fens with woody vegetation, sedges and mosses. Around 2200 cal BP, permafrost aggraded at the site resulting in frost heave and a drastic reduction in peat accumulation under the drier uplifted surface conditions. The permafrost dynamics (aggradation, frost-heave and thaw) ushered changes in plant assemblages and carbon accumulation, and consequently in the biomarker trends too. Detailed biomarker analyses indicate abundant neutral lipids, which follow the general pattern: n-alkanols > sterols >= n-alkanes >= triterpenols. The lignin monomers are not as abundant as the lipids and increase with depth. The selected aliphatic and phenolic compounds are source specific, and they have different degrees of lability, which is useful for tracing the impact of permafrost dynamics (peat accumulation and/or decay associated with thawing). However, common interpretation of biomarker patterns, and perceived hydrological and climate changes, must be applied carefully in permafrost regions. The increased proportion (selective preservation) of n-alkanes and lignin is a robust indicator of cumulative decomposition trajectories, which is mirrored by functional compounds (e. g. n-alkanol, triterpenol, and sterol concentrations) showing opposite trends. The distribution of these compounds follows first order decay kinetics, and concurs with the down core diagenetic changes. In particular, some of the biomarker ratios (e. g. stanol/sterol and higher plant alkane index) seem promising for tracing SOC decomposition despite changes in botanical imprint, and sites spanning across different soil types and locations. Carbon accumulation rate calculated at these sites varies from 18.1 to 31.1 gC m(-2) yr(-1), and it's evident selective preservation, molecular complexity of organic compounds, and freezing conditions enhance the long-term stability of SOC. Further, our results suggest that permafrost dynamics strongly impact the more undecomposed SOC that could be rapidly remobilized through ongoing thermokarst expansion.

(C) 2014 Elsevier B. V. All rights reserved.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2014. Vol. 368, 104-117 p.
Keyword [en]
Permafrost; Peat; Biomarkers; Carbon; Lability; Holocene
National Category
Geochemistry Geophysics
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-87149DOI: 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2013.12.022ISI: 000331566600010OAI: diva2:711787
Available from: 2014-04-11 Created: 2014-03-24 Last updated: 2014-04-11Bibliographically approved

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Becher, Marina
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Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences
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