Remobilization of terrestrial carbon across temporal and spatial scales deduced from the Arctic Ocean sediment recordDownload
Arctic warming is expected to trigger large-scale environmental change including remobilization of terrestrial organic carbon (terrOC). Permafrost and peatland systems contain more than twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and may upon destabilization expose large amounts of their carbon to microbial decomposition and release climate-forcing greenhouse gases (GHG). Remobilization of terrOC also causes lateral leakage of organic matter via Arctic rivers with further translocated organic matter degradation and GHG release, while a remainder is exported to the Arctic Ocean and re-deposited in sediments. Arctic Ocean sediments are thus receptors of terrOC remobilization for a large part of the circum-Arctic drainage basin, and offer an archive to study past terrOC remobilization, e.g. during warming periods of the last deglaciation.
This thesis investigates terrOC in Arctic Ocean sediments to study OC remobilization from permafrost and other terrestrial systems across temporal and spatial scales. As a first – historical – approach, permafrost OC remobilization and degradation during past warming episodes are studied using OC, dual-isotope source apportionment (13C-OC; 14C-OC) and terrestrial biomarkers (lignin phenols, long-chained n-alkanes and n-alkanoic acids) in glacial-cycle sediment cores from the Siberian continental margin. The results reveal that permafrost systems were highly vulnerable to OC release throughout past warming events, foremost during the Bølling–Allerød (14.7-12.9 kyr before present - BP) warming period and the early Holocene climate optimum (11.7-7.5 kyr BP). The sediment record shows that climate warming of about 1°C and 1.5°C (Northern Hemisphere) then triggered large-scale thawing of mostly coastal permafrost and permafrost soils in the Siberian hinterland. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that large-scale permafrost OC remobilization may have contributed to the observed rise in atmospheric CO2 during the last deglaciation, and thereby stresses the importance of permafrost thawing in the light of anthropogenic climate change.
The second – spatial – study angle in this thesis investigates the contemporary Earth system and studies terrOC remobilization from permafrost and other terrestrial sources using terrOC accumulation in surface sediments of the circum-Arctic shelf seas. This includes establishment and application of the Circum-Arctic Sediment Carbon Database (CASCADE), which is a data collection of thousands of observations of OC, 13C-OC, 14C-OC and terrestrial biomarkers from the published literature and yet-unpublished records. This offers the opportunity to study large-scale remobilization of terrOC in the circum-Arctic by integrating input from terrOC sources over large areas. Mass accumulation rates of the different terrOC sources (by 210Pb dating and dual-isotope source apportionment of OC) reveal that surface (incl. permafrost) soils remobilize more than twice as much terrOC as coastal erosion of old Pleistocene permafrost. Furthermore, vulnerabilities of terrOC stocks to large-scale remobilization are discussed, which suggests permafrost soils to be the most vulnerable terrOC pool to remobilization by climate warming.
This thesis highlights the vulnerability of terrOC stores to Arctic warming over time and space, and thus contributes to a better understanding of climate-carbon couplings in the Earth system.