Subsea permafrost carbon stocks and climate change sensitivity estimated by expert assessment

Sayedeh Sara Sayedi*, Benjamin W. Abbott, Brett F. Thornton, Jennifer M. Frederick, Jorien E. Vonk, Paul Overduin, Christina Schädel, Edward A.G. Schuur, Annie Bourbonnais, Nikita Demidov, Anatoly Gavrilov, Shengping He, Gustaf Hugelius, Martin Jakobsson, Miriam C. Jones, Dong Joo Joung, Gleb Kraev, Robie W. Macdonald, A. David McGuire, Cuicui MuMatt O’Regan, Kathryn M. Schreiner, Christian Stranne, Elena Pizhankova, Alexander Vasiliev, Sebastian Westermann, Jay P. Zarnetske, Tingjun Zhang, Mehran Ghandehari, Sarah Baeumler, Brian C. Brown, Rebecca J. Frei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas contain large stocks of organic matter (OM) and methane (CH4), representing a potential ecosystem feedback to climate change not included in international climate agreements. We performed a structured expert assessment with 25 permafrost researchers to combine quantitative estimates of the stocks and sensitivity of organic carbon in the subsea permafrost domain (i.e. unglaciated portions of the continental shelves exposed during the last glacial period). Experts estimated that the subsea permafrost domain contains ∼560 gigatons carbon (GtC; 170–740, 90% confidence interval) in OM and 45 GtC (10–110) in CH4. Current fluxes of CH4 and carbon dioxide (CO2) to the water column were estimated at 18 (2–34) and 38 (13–110) megatons C yr1, respectively. Under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) RCP8.5, the subsea permafrost domain could release 43 Gt CO2-equivalent (CO2e) by 2100 (14–110) and 190 Gt CO2e by 2300 (45–590), with ∼30% fewer emissions under RCP2.6. The range of uncertainty demonstrates a serious knowledge gap but provides initial estimates of the magnitude and timing of the subsea permafrost climate feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124075
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2020


  • Carbon stocks
  • Climate change
  • Expert assessment
  • Subsea permafrost


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