The Effects of Permafrost Thaw on Organic Matter Quality and Availability Along a Hill Slope in Northeastern Siberia

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Craig T Connolly, University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute, Austin, TX, United States, Seth Spawn, Woods Hole Science Center Woods Hole, Woods Hole, MA, United States, Sarah Ludwig, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States, John D Schade, Organization Not Listed, Washington, DC, United States and Susan Natali, Woods Hole Science Center Falmouth, Falmouth, MA, United States
Climate warming and permafrost thaw in northeastern Siberia are expected to change the quantity and quality of organic matter (OM) transported through watersheds, releasing previously frozen carbon (C) to biologically available pool. Hill slopes have shown to influence the distribution of OM, resulting in a downhill accumulation of available C and nutrients relative to uphill. Here we examine how future permafrost thaw will change OM quality and availability along a hill slope in a larch-dominated watershed. We collected soils from the thawed organic and mineral layers, and 1m deep permafrost cores for dissolved organic C (DOC) and total dissolved N (TDN), C composition from measures of colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM), DOC lability from biodegradable DOC (BDOC) incubations, C and nutrient availability from extracellular-enzyme assays (EEA’s), and microbial respiration from aerobic soil incubations. Here we show that organic soils (O), in comparison to mineral soils (M) and permafrost (P) are the most abundant source of C (avg O DOC: 51.6mg/L), exhibiting low molecular complexity (avg O SUVA254: 4.05) and high quality. Evidence suggests permafrost OM may be an equally abundant, and more labile source of C than mineral soils (highest P DOC: 16.1 mg/L, lowest P SUVA254: 6.32; median M DOC: 18.5 mg/L, median M SUVA254: 24.0). Furthermore, we demonstrate that there may be a positive relationship in the rate of C mineralization and distance downhill, showing 15-30% greater CO2 production/gC downhill relative to uphill. Evidence also supports a similar relationship in permafrost DOC content and molecular complexity, showing more DOC of a lower complexity further downhill. This indicates DOC transport may have been occurring through the active layer and downhill during ice-rich permafrost formation, and may supply a labile source of carbon to lowland areas and adjacent stream networks upon thaw.