Rivers across the Siberian Arctic unearth the patterns of carbon release from thawing permafrost

Birgit Wild, August Andersson, Lisa Bröder, Jorien Vonk, Gustaf Hugelius, James W. McClelland, Wenjun Song, Peter A. Raymond, Örjan Gustafsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Climate warming is expected to mobilize northern permafrost and peat organic carbon (PP-C), yet magnitudes and system specifics of even current releases are poorly constrained. While part of the PP-C will degrade at point of thaw to CO2 and CH4 to directly amplify global warming, another part will enter the fluvial network, potentially providing a window to observe large-scale PP-C remobilization patterns. Here, we employ a decade-long, high-temporal resolution record of 14C in dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC, respectively) to deconvolute PP-C release in the large drainage basins of rivers across Siberia: Ob, Yenisey, Lena, and Kolyma. The 14C-constrained estimate of export specifically from PP-C corresponds to only 17 ± 8% of total fluvial organic carbon and serves as a benchmark for monitoring changes to fluvial PP-C remobilization in a warming Arctic. Whereas DOC was dominated by recent organic carbon and poorly traced PP-C (12 ± 8%), POC carried a much stronger signature of PP-C (63 ± 10%) and represents the best window to detect spatial and temporal dynamics of PP-C release. Distinct seasonal patterns suggest that while DOC primarily stems from gradual leaching of surface soils, POC reflects abrupt collapse of deeper deposits. Higher dissolved PP-C export by Ob and Yenisey aligns with discontinuous permafrost that facilitates leaching, whereas higher particulate PP-C export by Lena and Kolyma likely echoes the thermokarst-induced collapse of Pleistocene deposits. Quantitative 14C-based fingerprinting of fluvial organic carbon thus provides an opportunity to elucidate large-scale dynamics of PP-C remobilization in response to Arctic warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10280-10285
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • carbon cycle
  • climate change
  • leaching
  • peat
  • radiocarbon


Dive into the research topics of 'Rivers across the Siberian Arctic unearth the patterns of carbon release from thawing permafrost'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this