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Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region

Charles Tarnocai, Josep G. Canadell, Edward A. G. Schuur, Peter Kuhry, Galina Mazhitova and Sergei A. Zimov.

Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 23, GB2023,


The vast amount of carbon stored in the Arctic and boreal regions of the world is more than double that previously estimated, according to a study published this week. The new estimate is over 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere.

Paper Abstract

The Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon Database was developed in order to determine carbon pools in soils of the northern circumpolar permafrost region. The area of all soils in the northern permafrost region is approximately 18,782 x 103 km2, or approximately 16% of the global soil area. In the northern permafrost region, organic soils (peatlands) and cryoturbated permafrost-affected mineral soils have the highest mean soil organic carbon contents (32.2–69.6 kg m-2). Here we report a new estimate of the carbon pools in soils of the northern permafrost region, including deeper layers and pools not accounted for in previous analyses. Carbon pools were estimated to be 191.29 Pg for the 0–30 cm depth, 495.80 Pg for the 0–100 cm depth, and 1024.00 Pg for the 0–300 cm depth. Our estimate for the first meter of soil alone is about double that reported for this region in previous analyses. Carbon pools in layers deeper than 300 cm were estimated to be 407 Pg in yedoma deposits and 241 Pg in deltaic deposits. In total, the northern permafrost region contains approximately 1672 Pg of organic carbon, of which approximately 1466 Pg, or 88%, occurs in perennially frozen soils and deposits. This 1672 Pg of organic carbon would account for approximately 50% of the estimated global belowground organic carbon pool.


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Illustrative Photos (available free if credited as specified).

Frozen Soil Sediment, Siberia Frozen Soil Sediment, Siberia
Frozen soil sediment deposit in Siberia.
Credit: Edward A. G. Schuur
(1686 x 1812, jpg 490 kb)
Frozen soil sediment deposit in Siberia.
Credit: Edward A. G. Schuur
(823 x 618, jpg 109kb)
Frozen Peatland, Canada tundra, Alaska Range
Frozen peatland soil from the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Canada.
Credit: Peter Khury.
(431 x 644, jpg 68 kb)
Tundra on the north slope of the Alaska Range,
Denali National Park.
Credit: Larissa Yocum
(2049 x 1536, jpg 921 kb)
Riverbank sediment deposits Lowland Lakes, Siberia
Riverbank sediment deposits in Siberia.
Credit: Edward A. G. Schuur
(1765 x 1321, jpg 163 kb)
Lowland lakes in northeastern Siberia.
Credit: Edward A. G. Schuur
1807 x 1355 jpg 266 kb)
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