Cryoturbation leads to iron-organic carbon associations along a permafrost soil chronosequence in northern Alaska

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Hanna Joss, Monique Sezanne Patzner, Markus Maisch, Carsten W Mueller, Andreas Kappler, Casey Bryce


In permafrost soils, substantial amounts of organic carbon (OC) are potentially protected from microbial degradation and transformation into greenhouse gases by association with reactive iron (Fe) minerals. As permafrost environments respond to climate change, increased drainage of thaw lakes in permafrost regions is predicted. Soils will subsequently develop on these drained thaw lakes, but the role of Fe-OC associations in future OC stabilization during this predicted soil development is unknown. To fill this knowledge gap, we have examined Fe-OC associations in organic, cryoturbated and mineral horizons along a 5500-year chronosequence of drained thaw lake basins in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. By applying chemical extractions, we found that
~17 % of the total OC content in cryoturbated horizons is associated with reactive Fe minerals, compared to ~10 % in organic or mineral horizons. As soil development advances, the total stocks of Fe-associated OC more than double within the first 50 years after thaw lake drainage, because of increased storage of Fe-associated OC in cryoturbated horizons (from 8 to 75 % of the total Fe-associated OC stock). Spatially-resolved nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry showed that OC is primarily associated with Fe(III) (oxyhydr)oxides which were identified by 57Fe Mössbauer spectroscopy as ferrihydrite. High OC:Fe mass ratios (>0.22) indicate that Fe-OC associations are formed via co-precipitation, chelation and aggregation. These results demonstrate that, given the proposed enhanced drainage of thaw lakes under climate change, OC is increasingly incorporated and stabilized by the association with reactive Fe minerals as a result of soil formation and increased cryoturbation.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


carbon, iron, thermokarst, cryoturbation


Published: 2021-08-02 13:59

Last Updated: 2021-09-08 09:31

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Raw data will be made available upon peer review and acceptance of the final manuscript

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