Methane emissions proportional to permafrost carbon thawed in Arctic lakes since the 1950s

TitleMethane emissions proportional to permafrost carbon thawed in Arctic lakes since the 1950s
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsAnthony, KWalter, Daanen, R, Anthony, P, von Deimling, TSchneider, Ping, C-L, Chanton, JP, Grosse, G
JournalNature Geoscience
Pagination679 - 682
Date PublishedOct-08-2017
KeywordsCarbon cycle, Climate change, Cryospheric science

Permafrost thaw exposes previously frozen soil organic matter to microbial decomposition. This process generates methane and carbon dioxide, and thereby fuels a positive feedback process that leads to further warming and thaw1. Despite widespread permafrost degradation during the past ~40 years2, 3, 4, the degree to which permafrost thaw may be contributing to a feedback between warming and thaw in recent decades is not well understood. Radiocarbon evidence of modern emissions of ancient permafrost carbon is also sparse5. Here we combine radiocarbon dating of lake bubble trace-gas methane (113 measurements) and soil organic carbon (289 measurements) for lakes in Alaska, Canada, Sweden and Siberia with numerical modelling of thaw and remote sensing of thermokarst shore expansion. Methane emissions from thermokarst areas of lakes that have expanded over the past 60 years were directly proportional to the mass of soil carbon inputs to the lakes from the erosion of thawing permafrost. Radiocarbon dating indicates that methane age from lakes is nearly identical to the age of permafrost soil carbon thawing around them. Based on this evidence of landscape-scale permafrost carbon feedback, we estimate that 0.2 to 2.5 Pg permafrost carbon was released as methane and carbon dioxide in thermokarst expansion zones of pan-Arctic lakes during the past 60 years.