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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 7 | Copyright
Biogeosciences, 15, 1969-1985, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 04 Apr 2018

Research article | 04 Apr 2018

Substrate potential of last interglacial to Holocene permafrost organic matter for future microbial greenhouse gas production

Janina G. Stapel1, Georg Schwamborn2, Lutz Schirrmeister2, Brian Horsfield1, and Kai Mangelsdorf1 Janina G. Stapel et al.
  • 1GFZ, German Research Centre for Geoscience, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Organic Geochemistry, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Department of Periglacial Research, Telegrafenberg, A43, 14473 Potsdam, Germany

Abstract. In this study the organic matter (OM) in several permafrost cores from Bol'shoy Lyakhovsky Island in NE Siberia was investigated. In the context of the observed global warming the aim was to evaluate the potential of freeze-locked OM from different depositional ages to act as a substrate provider for microbial production of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost. To assess this potential, the concentrations of free and bound acetate, which form an appropriate substrate for methanogenesis, were determined. The largest free-acetate (in pore water) and bound-acetate (organic-matrix-linked) substrate pools were present in interstadial marine isotope stage (MIS) 3 and stadial MIS 4 Yedoma permafrost deposits. In contrast, deposits from the last interglacial MIS 5e (Eemian) contained only a small pool of substrates. The Holocene (MIS 1) deposits revealed a significant bound-acetate pool, representing a future substrate potential upon release during OM degradation. Additionally, pyrolysis experiments on the OM allocated an increased aliphatic character to the MIS 3 and 4 Late Pleistocene deposits, which might indicate less decomposed and presumably more easily degradable OM. Biomarkers for past microbial communities, including those for methanogenic archaea, also showed the highest abundance during MIS 3 and 4, which indicated OM-stimulated microbial degradation and presumably greenhouse gas production during time of deposition. On a broader perspective, Arctic warming will increase and deepen permafrost thaw and favor substrate availability from older freeze-locked permafrost deposits. Thus, the Yedoma deposits especially showed a high potential for providing substrates relevant for microbial greenhouse gas production.

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Short summary
Climate warming in the Arctic results in thawing of permafrost deposits. This promotes the accessibility of freeze-locked old organic matter (OM) accumulated during the past. Characterizing OM of different depositional ages, we were able to show that OM from last glacial Yedoma deposits possess the highest potential to provide organic substrates such as acetate for microbial greenhouse gas production and therefore to accelerate the carbon–climate feedback cycle during ongoing global warming.
Climate warming in the Arctic results in thawing of permafrost deposits. This promotes the...