Sensitivity of Arctic Permafrost Carbon in the Mackenzie River Basin: A substrate addition and incubation experiment

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Alex Hedgpeth1, Dave Beilman1 and Susan E Crow2, (1)University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States, (2)University of Hawaii Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States
Arctic soil organic matter (SOM) mineralization processes are fundamental to the functioning of high latitude soils in relation to nutrients, stability, and feedbacks to atmospheric CO2 and climate. The arctic permafrost zone covers 25% of the northern hemisphere and contains 1672Pg of soil carbon (C). 88% of this C currently resides in frozen soils that are vulnerable to environmental change. For instance, arctic growing seasons may be lengthened, resulting in an increase in plant productivity and rate of below ground labile C inputs as root exudates. Understanding controls on Arctic SOM dynamics requires recognition that labile C inputs have the potential to significantly affect mineralization of previously stable SOM, also known as ‘priming effects’. We conducted a substrate addition incubation experiment to quantify and compare respiration in highly organic (42-48 %C) permafrost soils along a north-south transect in western Canada. Near surface soils (10-20 cm) were collected from permafrost peatland sites in the Mackenzie River Basin from 69.2-62.6°N. The surface soils are fairly young (Δ14C values > -140.0) and can be assumed to contain relatively reactive soil carbon. To assess whether addition of labile substrate alters SOM decomposition dynamics, 4.77-11.75 g of permafrost soil were spiked with 0.5 mg D-glucose g-1 soil and incubated at 5°C. A mass balance approach was used to determin substrate-induced respiration and preliminary results suggest a potential for positive priming in these C-rich soils. Baseline respiration rates from the three sites were similar (0.067-0.263 mg CO2 g-1 soil C) yet show some site-specific trends. The rate at which added substrate was utilized within these soils suggests that other factors besides temperature and soil C content are controlling substrate consumption and its effect on SOM decomposition. Microbial activity can be stimulated by substrate addition to such an extent that SOM turnover is enhanced, suggesting that soil C decay rates and processes are not constant, but depend on the inter-soil dynamics of other soil C pools. If these C rich soils contain ample C-resources to fuel extra microbial SOM decomposition, then possibly this enhanced use of SOM is not as a means of C acquisition, but to mobilize nutrients needed to meet microbial growth requirements.