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Arctic permafrost lakes form thaw bulbs of unfrozen permafrost soils beneath them where carbon degradation and greenhouse gas production is increased. Therefore, we analyzed the stable carbon isotopes of Alaskan lake sediment and porewater carbon and found that the top sediment layers of these thaw bulbs are more actively degraded than its deeper layers. This in turn implies that the top layers of these thaw bulbs are likely more potent greenhouse gas producers than the underlying deeper layers.
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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-439
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-439

  15 Dec 2020

15 Dec 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Porewater δ13CDOC Indicates Variable Extent Of Degradation In Different Talik Layers Of Coastal Alaskan Thermokarst Lakes

Ove H. Meisel1,2, Joshua F. Dean1,2,3, Jorien E. Vonk1,2, Lukas Wacker4, Gert-Jan Reichart2,5,6, and A. Johannes Dolman1,2 Ove H. Meisel et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 1081HV, The Netherlands
  • 2Netherlands Earth System Science Center, Utrecht University, Utrecht, 3584CS, The Netherlands
  • 3School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 7ZT, UK
  • 4Department of Physics, Ion Beam Laboratory, ETH Zürich, Zürich, 8093, Switzerland
  • 5Department of Ocean Systems, NIOZ-Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Den Hoorn, 1797SZ, The Netherlands
  • 6Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, 3508TA, The Netherlands

Abstract. Thermokarst lakes play an important role in permafrost environments by warming up and insulating the underlying permafrost. As a result, thaw bulbs of unfrozen ground (taliks) are formed. Since these taliks remain perennially thawed, they are zones of increased degradation where microbial activity and geochemical processes can lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions from thermokarst lakes. It is not well understood though to what extent the organic carbon (OC) in different talik layers below thermokarst lakes is affected by degradation. Here, we present two transects of short sediment cores from two thermokarst lakes on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska. Based on their physiochemical properties two main talik layers were identified. A lake sediment at the top with low density, sand and silicon content but high porosity. Underneath a deeper talik (former permafrost soil) of high sediment density and rich in sand but lower porosity. Loss on ignition (LOI) measurements show that the organic matter (OM) content in the lake sediment of 28 ± 3 wt % (1σ, n = 23) is considerably higher than in the underlying deeper talik soil with 8 ± 6 wt % (1σ, n =  35), but dissolved organic carbon (DOC) leaches from both layers in high concentrations: 40 ± 14 mg/l (1σ, n =  22) and 60 ± 14 mg/l (1σ, n = 20), respectively. Stable carbon isotope analysis of the porewater DOC (δ13CDOC) showed a relatively wide range of values from −30.74 ‰ to −27.11 ‰ with a mean of −28.57 ± 0.92 ‰ (1σ, n =  21) in the lake sediment, compared to a relatively narrow range of −27.58 ‰ to −26.76 ‰ with a mean of −27.59 ± 0.83 ‰ (1σ, n = 21) in the deeper talik soil (one outlier at −30.74 ‰). The opposite was observed in the soil organic carbon (SOC), with a narrow δ13CSOC range from −29.15 ‰ to −27.72 ‰ in the lake sediment (−28.56 ± 0.36 ‰, 1σ, n = 23) in comparison to a wider δ13CSOC range from −27.72 ‰ to 25.55 ‰ in the underlying deeper talik soil (−26.84 ± 0.81 ‰, 1σ, n = 21). The wider range of porewater δ13CDOC values in the lake sediment compared to the deeper talik soil, but narrower range of comparative δ13CSOC, along with the δ13C-shift from δ13CSOC to δ13CDOC together indicates increased stable carbon isotope fractionation due to ongoing processes in the lake sediment. Increased degradation of the OC in the lake sediment relative to the underlying deeper talik are the most likely explanation for these differences in δ13CDOC values. As thermokarst lakes can be important greenhouse gas sources in the Arctic it is important to better understand the degree of degradation in the individual talik layers as an indicator for their potential in greenhouse gas release. Especially, as predicted warming of the Arctic in the coming decades will likely increase the number and extent (horizontal and vertical) of thermokarst lake taliks.

Ove H. Meisel et al.

 
Status: open (until 29 Jan 2021)
Status: open (until 29 Jan 2021)
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Ove H. Meisel et al.

Ove H. Meisel et al.

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Short summary
Arctic permafrost lakes form thaw bulbs of unfrozen permafrost soils beneath them where carbon degradation and greenhouse gas production is increased. Therefore, we analyzed the stable carbon isotopes of Alaskan lake sediment and porewater carbon and found that the top sediment layers of these thaw bulbs are more actively degraded than its deeper layers. This in turn implies that the top layers of these thaw bulbs are likely more potent greenhouse gas producers than the underlying deeper layers.
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