Biomass offsets little or none of permafrost carbon release from soils, streams, and wildfire: an expert assessment

Benjamin Abbott, Jeremy Jones, Edward Schuur, F. Stuart Chapin III, William Bowden, Marion Bret - Harte, Howard Epstein, Mike Flannigan, Tamara Harms, Teresa Hollingworth, Michelle Mack, A. McGuire, Susan Natali, Adrian Rocha, Suzanne Tank, Merritt Turetsky, Jorien Vonk, Kimberly Wickland, George Aiken, Heather AlexanderRainer Amon, Brian Benscoter, Yves Bergeron, Kevin Bishop, Olivier Blarquez, Ben Bond - Lamberty, Amy Breen, Ishi Buffam, Yihua Cai, Christopher Carcaillat, Sean Carey, Jing Chen, Han Chen, Torben Christensen, Lee Cooper, J. Cornelissen, William de Groot, Thomas DeLuca, Ellen Dorrepaal, Ned Fetcher, Jaques Finlay, Bruce Forbes, Nancy French, Sylvie Gauthier, Martin Girardin, Scott Goetz, Johann Goldammer, Laura Gough, Paul Grogan, Laodong Guo, Philip Higuera, Larry Hinzman, Feng Sheng Hu, Gustaf Hugelius, Elchin Jafarov, Randi Jandt, Jill Johnstone, Jan Karlsson, Eric Kasischke, Gerhard Kattner, Ryan Kelly, Frida Keuper, George Kling, Pirkko Kortelainen, Jari Kouki, Peter Kuhry, Hjalmar Laudon, Isabelle Laurion, Robie Macdonald, Paul Mann, Pertti Martikainen, James McClelland, Ulf Molau, Steven Oberbauer, David Olefeldt, David Pare, Marc-Andre Parisien, Serge Payette, Changhui Peng, Oleg Pokrovsky, Edward Rastetter, Peter Raymond, Martha Raynolds, Guillermo Rein, James Reynolds, Martin Robards, Brendan Rogers, Christina Schädel, Kevin Schaefer, Inger Schmidt, Anatoly Shvidenko, Jasper Sky, Robert Spencer, Gregory Starr, Robert Striegl, Roman Teisserenc, Lars Tranvik, Tarmo Viranen, Jeffrey Welker

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As the permafrost region warms, its large organic carbon pool will be increasingly vulnerable to decomposition, combustion, and hydrologic export. Models predict that some portion of this release will be offset by increased production of Arctic and boreal biomass; however, the lack of robust estimates of net carbon balance increases the risk of further overshooting international emissions targets. Precise empirical or model-based assessments of the critical factors driving carbon balance are unlikely in the near future, so to address this gap, we present estimates from 98 permafrost-region experts of the response of biomass, wildfire, and hydrologic carbon flux to climate change. Results suggest that contrary to model projections, total permafrost-region biomass could decrease due to water stress and disturbance, factors that are not adequately incorporated in current models. Assessments indicate that end-of-the-century organic carbon release from Arctic rivers and collapsing coastlines could increase by 75% while carbon loss via burning could increase four-fold. Experts identified water balance, shifts in vegetation community, and permafrost degradation as the key sources of uncertainty in predicting future system response. In combination with previous findings, results suggest the permafrost region will become a carbon source to the atmosphere by 2100 regardless of warming scenario but that 65 to 85% of permafrost carbon release can still be avoided if human emissions are actively reduced.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Early online date7 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


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