Nature Publishing Group

High stocks of soil organic carbon in the North American Arctic region

The Arctic soil organic-carbon pool is a significant, but poorly constrained, carbon store. The most cited pool size estimates are based on a study that severely undersamples Arctic soils, with only five out of the 48 soils examined actually from the Arctic region. Furthermore, previous measurements have been confined to the top 40 cm of soil. Here, we present 1-m-deep measurements of soil organic carbon obtained at 117 locations in the North American Arctic region. To this dataset we add previously published measurements to generate a total sample size of 139 North American Arctic soils. We show that soil organic-carbon stores are highly dependent on landscape type, being highest in lowland and hilly upland soils, where values average 55.1 and 40.6 kg soil organic carbon m-2 respectively, and lowest in rubbleland and mountain soils, where values average 3.4 and 3.8 kg soil organic carbon m-2 respectively. Extrapolating our measurements using known distributions of landscape types we estimate that the total organic carbon pool in North American Arctic soils, together with the average amount of carbon per unit area, is considerably higher than previously thought. Our estimates of the depth distribution and total amount of organic carbon in North American Arctic soils will form an important basis for studies examining the impact of climate warming on CO2 release in the region.

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