Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Review article
01 Jul 2014
Review article |  | 01 Jul 2014

Permafrost-affected soils and their carbon pools with a focus on the Russian Arctic

S. Zubrzycki, L. Kutzbach, and E.-M. Pfeiffer

Abstract. Permafrost-affected soils have accumulated enormous pools of organic matter during the Quaternary period. The area occupied by these soils amounts to more than 8.6 million km2, which is about 27% of all land areas north of 50° N. Therefore, permafrost-affected soils are considered to be one of the important cryosphere elements within the climate system. Due to the cryopedogenic processes that form these particular soils and the overlying vegetation that is adapted to the arctic climate, organic matter has accumulated to the present extent of up to 1024 Pg (1 Pg = 1015 g = 1 Gt) of soil organic carbon stored within the uppermost 3 m of ground. Considering the observed progressive climate change and the projected polar amplification, permafrost-affected soils will undergo fundamental property changes. Higher turnover and mineralisation rates of the organic matter are consequences of these changes, which are expected to result in an increased release of climate-relevant trace gases into the atmosphere. The controversy of whether permafrost regions continue accumulating carbon or already function as a carbon source remains open until today. An increased focus on this subject matter, especially in underrepresented Siberian regions, could contribute to a more robust estimation of the soil organic carbon pool of permafrost regions and at the same time improve the understanding of the carbon sink and source functions of permafrost-affected soils.