Synthesizing the Use of Carbon Isotope (14C and 13C) Approaches to Understand Rates and Pathways for Permafrost C Mobilization and Mineralization

Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Cristian Estop-Aragones1, David Olefeldt1 and Edward Schuur2, (1)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
To better understand the permafrost carbon (C) feedback it is important to synthesize our current knowledge, and knowledge gaps, of how permafrost thaw can cause in situ mineralization or downstream mobilization of aged soil organic carbon (SOC) and the rate of this release. This potential loss of old SOC may occur via gaseous flux of CO2 and CH4 exchanged between soil and the atmosphere and via waterborne flux as DOC, POC (and their subsequent decomposition and release to the atmosphere). Carbon isotope (14C and 13C) approaches have been used to estimate both rates and pathways for permafrost C mobilization and mineralization. Radiocarbon (14C) has been used to estimate the contribution of aged C to overall respiration or waterborne C export. We aim to contrast results from radiocarbon studies, in order to assess differences between ecosystems (contrasting wet and dry ecosystems), thaw histories (active layer deepening or thermokarst landforms), greenhouse gas considered (CO2 and CH4) and seasons. We propose to also contrast methodologies used for assessing the contribution of aged C to overall C balance, and include studies using 13C data. Biological fractionation of 13C during both uptake and decomposition has been taken advantage of both in order to aid the interpretation of 14C data and on its own to assess sources and mineralization pathways. For example, 13C data has been used to differentiate between CH4 production pathways, and the relative contribution of anaerobic CO2 production to overall respiration. Overall, carbon isotope research is proving highly valuable for our understanding of permafrost C dynamics following thaw, and there is a current need to synthesize the available literature.