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 are still poorly quantified. We define the OM quality as the intrinsic potential to further transformation, decomposition and mineralization. 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 ~52 ka. We showed that the ancient permafrost exposed in the Sobo-Sise cliff has a high organic carbon content (mean of about 5 wt%). The oldest sediments stem from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 interstadial deposits (dated to 52 to 28 cal kyr BP) and is overlaid by Last Glacial MIS 2 (dated to 28 to 15 cal ka BP) and Holocene MIS 1 (dated to 7-0 cal ka BP) 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 FAs relative to mid and long chain (C≥20) 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 of HPFA values downwards along the profile probably indicates a relatively 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 future.
|Number of pages||16|
|Publication status||Published - 14 Apr 2022|