Organic matter characteristics of a rapidly eroding permafrost cliff in NE Siberia (Lena Delta, Laptev Sea region)

Charlotte Haugk, Loeka L. Jongejans, Kai Mangelsdorf, Matthias Fuchs, Olga Ogneva, Juri Palmtag, Gesine Mollenhauer, Paul J. Mann, P. Paul Overduin, Guido Grosse, Tina Sanders, Robyn E. Tuerena, Lutz Schirrmeister, Sebastian Wetterich, Alexander Kizyakov, Cornelia Karger, Jens Strauss

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Organic carbon (OC) stored in Arctic permafrost represents one of Earth's largest and most vulnerable terrestrial carbon pools. Amplified climate warming across the Arctic results in widespread permafrost thaw. Permafrost deposits exposed at river cliffs and coasts are particularly susceptible to thawing processes. Accelerating erosion of terrestrial permafrost along shorelines leads to increased transfer of organic matter (OM) to nearshore waters. However, the amount of terrestrial permafrost carbon and nitrogen as well as the OM quality in these deposits is still poorly quantified. We define the OM quality as the intrinsic potential for further transformation, decomposition and mineralisation. Here, we characterise the sources and the quality of OM supplied to the Lena River at a rapidly eroding permafrost river shoreline cliff in the eastern part of the delta (Sobo-Sise Island). Our multi-proxy approach captures bulk elemental, molecular geochemical and carbon isotopic analyses of Late Pleistocene Yedoma permafrost and Holocene cover deposits, discontinuously spanning the last g1/452gkyr. We showed that the ancient permafrost exposed in the Sobo-Sise cliff has a high organic carbon content (mean of about 5gwtg%). The oldest sediments stem from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 interstadial deposits (dated to 52 to 28gcalgkagBP) and are overlaid by last glacial MIS 2 (dated to 28 to 15gcalgkagBP) and Holocene MIS 1 (dated to 7-0gcalgkagBP) deposits. The relatively high average chain length (ACL) index of n-alkanes along the cliff profile indicates a predominant contribution of vascular plants to the OM composition. The elevated ratio of iso- and anteiso-branched fatty acids (FAs) relative to mid- and long-chain (Cg≥g20) n-FAs in the interstadial MIS 3 and the interglacial MIS 1 deposits suggests stronger microbial activity and consequently higher input of bacterial biomass during these climatically warmer periods. The overall high carbon preference index (CPI) and higher plant fatty acid (HPFA) values as well as high C/N ratios point to a good quality of the preserved OM and thus to a high potential of the OM for decomposition upon thaw. A decrease in HPFA values downwards along the profile probably indicates stronger OM decomposition in the oldest (MIS 3) deposits of the cliff. The characterisation of OM from eroding permafrost leads to a better assessment of the greenhouse gas potential of the OC released into river and nearshore waters in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2079-2094
Number of pages15
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2022


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