Decadal soil carbon accumulation across Tibetan permafrost regions

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
Volume:
10,
Pages:
420–424
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/ngeo2945
Received
Accepted
Published online

Abstract

Permafrost soils store large amounts of carbon. Warming can result in carbon release from thawing permafrost, but it can also lead to enhanced primary production, which can increase soil carbon stocks. The balance of these fluxes determines the nature of the permafrost feedback to warming. Here we assessed decadal changes in soil organic carbon stocks in the active layer—the uppermost 30cm—of permafrost soils across Tibetan alpine regions, based on repeated soil carbon measurements in the early 2000s and 2010s at the same sites. We observed an overall accumulation of soil organic carbon irrespective of vegetation type, with a mean rate of 28.0gCm−2yr−1 across Tibetan permafrost regions. This soil organic carbon accrual occurred only in the subsurface soil, between depths of 10 and 30cm, mainly induced by an increase of soil organic carbon concentrations. We conclude that the upper active layer of Tibetan alpine permafrost currently represents a substantial regional soil carbon sink in a warming climate, implying that carbon losses of deeper and older permafrost carbon might be offset by increases in upper-active-layer soil organic carbon stocks, which probably results from enhanced vegetation growth.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Changes in soil organic carbon density ([Delta]SOCD) at 0-30[thinsp]cm depth from the 2000s to 2010s across Tibetan permafrost regions.
    Figure 1: Changes in soil organic carbon density (ΔSOCD) at 0–30cm depth from the 2000s to 2010s across Tibetan permafrost regions.

    Relative change rate in SOCD (in units of % yr−1, coloured in blue) was calculated as the ratio of the absolute change rate (in units of gCm−2yr−1, coloured in red) to the mean SOCD over the study period. AS, alpine steppe; AM, alpine meadow. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals (CI).

  2. Changes in soil organic carbon density ([Delta]SOCD) at different soil depths from the 2000s to 2010s across Tibetan permafrost regions.
    Figure 2: Changes in soil organic carbon density (ΔSOCD) at different soil depths from the 2000s to 2010s across Tibetan permafrost regions.

    Relative change rate in SOCD (in units of % yr−1, b) was calculated as the ratio of the absolute change rate (in units of gCm−2yr−1, a) to the mean SOCD over the study period. AS, alpine steppe; AM, alpine meadow. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals (CI).

  3. Changes in bulk density ([Delta]BD) and soil organic carbon concentration ([Delta]SOCC) from the 2000s to 2010s across Tibetan permafrost regions.
    Figure 3: Changes in bulk density (ΔBD) and soil organic carbon concentration (ΔSOCC) from the 2000s to 2010s across Tibetan permafrost regions.

    AS, alpine steppe; AM, alpine meadow. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals (CI).

References

  1. Hugelius, G. et al. Estimated stocks of circumpolar permafrost carbon with quantified uncertainty ranges and identified data gaps. Biogeosciences 11, 65736593 (2014).
  2. Ding, J. et al. The permafrost carbon inventory on the Tibetan Plateau: a new evaluation using deep sediment cores. Glob. Change Biol. 22, 26882701 (2016).
  3. Schuur, E. A. G. et al. Climate change and the permafrost carbon feedback. Nature 520, 171179 (2015).
  4. Schädel, C. et al. Potential carbon emissions dominated by carbon dioxide from thawed permafrost soils. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 950953 (2016).
  5. Schuur, E. A. G. The effect of permafrost thaw on old carbon release and net carbon exchange from tundra. Nature 459, 556559 (2009).
  6. McGuire, A. D. et al. Variability in the sensitivity among model simulations of permafrost and carbon dynamics in the permafrost region between 1960 and 2009. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 30, 10151037 (2016).
  7. Koven, C. D. et al. Permafrost carbon–climate feedbacks accelerate global warming. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 1476914774 (2011).
  8. Koven, C. D., Lawrence, D. M. & Riley, W. J. Permafrost carbon–climate feedback is sensitive to deep soil carbon decomposability but not deep soil nitrogen dynamics. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 37523757 (2015).
  9. Luo, Y. et al. Toward more realistic projections of soil carbon dynamics by Earth System Models. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 30, 4056 (2016).
  10. Bradford, M. A. et al. Managing uncertainty in soil carbon feedbacks to climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 751758 (2016).
  11. Bellamy, P. H., Loveland, P. J., Bradley, R. I., Lark, R. M. & Kirk, G. J. D. Carbon losses from all soils across England and Wales 1978–2003. Nature 437, 245248 (2005).
  12. Prietzel, J., Zimmermann, L., Schubert, A. & Christophel, D. Organic matter losses in German Alps forest soils since the 1970s most likely caused by warming. Nat. Geosci. 9, 543548 (2016).
  13. Sistla, S. A. et al. Long-term warming restructures Arctic tundra without changing net soil carbon storage. Nature 497, 615618 (2013).
  14. Elberling, B. et al. Long-term CO2 production following permafrost thaw. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 890894 (2013).
  15. Mu, C. et al. Editorial: organic carbon pools in permafrost regions on the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) Plateau. Cryosphere 9, 479486 (2015).
  16. Wang, B., Bao, Q., Hoskins, B., Wu, G. & Liu, Y. Tibetan Plateau warming and precipitation changes in East Asia. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L14702 (2008).
  17. Li, L., Yang, S., Wang, Z., Zhu, X. & Tang, H. Evidence of warming and wetting climate over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Arct. Antarct. Alp. Res. 42, 449457 (2010).
  18. Wu, Q. & Zhang, T. Recent permafrost warming on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. J. Geogr. Sci. 113, D13108 (2008).
  19. Zhang, Y. et al. Spatial and temporal variability in the net primary production of alpine grassland on the Tibetan Plateau since 1982. J. Geogr. Sci. 24, 269287 (2014).
  20. Zhuang, Q. et al. Carbon dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems on the Tibetan Plateau during the 20th century: an analysis with a process-based biogeochemical model. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 19, 649662 (2010).
  21. Yang, Y. et al. Storage, patterns and controls of soil organic carbon in the Tibetan grasslands. Glob. Change Biol. 14, 15921599 (2008).
  22. Yu, X. et al. Variable responses to long-term simulated warming of underground biomass and carbon allocations of two alpine meadows on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Chin. Sci. Bull. 60, 379388 (2015).
  23. Xu, M. et al. Effects of experimental warming on the root biomass of an alpine meadow on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. Acta Ecol. Sin. 36, 68126822 (2016).
  24. Mathieu, J. A., Hatté, C., Balesdent, J. & Parent, É. Deep soil carbon dynamics are driven more by soil type than by climate: a worldwide meta-analysis of radiocarbon profiles. Glob. Change Biol. 21, 42784292 (2015).
  25. Salomé, C., Nunan, N., Pouteau, V., Lerch, T. Z. & Chenu, C. Carbon dynamics in topsoil and in subsoil may be controlled by different regulatory mechanisms. Glob. Change Biol. 16, 416426 (2010).
  26. Gillabel, J., Cebrian-Lopez, B., Six, J. & Merckx, R. Experimental evidence for the attenuating effect of SOM protection on temperature sensitivity of SOM decomposition. Glob. Change Biol. 16, 27892798 (2010).
  27. Schmidt, M. W. I. et al. Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property. Nature 478, 4956 (2011).
  28. Fierer, N., Allen, A. S., Schimel, J. P. & Holden, P. A. Controls on microbial CO2 production: a comparison of surface and subsurface soil horizons. Glob. Change Biol. 9, 13221332 (2003).
  29. Tian, Q. et al. Microbial community mediated response of organic carbon mineralization to labile carbon and nitrogen addition in topsoil and subsoil. Biogeochemistry 128, 125139 (2016).
  30. Garcia-Pausas, J. et al. Factors regulating carbon mineralization in the surface and subsurface soils of Pyrenean mountain grasslands. Soil Biol. Biochem. 40, 28032810 (2008).
  31. Zhang, X. Z. et al. Ecological change on the Tibetan Plateau. Chin. Sci. Bull. 60, 30483056 (2015).
  32. Piao, S. et al. Impacts of climate and CO2 changes on the vegetation growth and carbon balance of Qinghai–Tibetan grasslands over the past five decades. Glob. Planet. Change 98–99, 7380 (2012).
  33. Ouyang, Z. et al. Improvements in ecosystem services from investments in natural capital. Science 352, 14551459 (2016).
  34. Huang, K. et al. The influences of climate change and human Activities on vegetation dynamics in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Remote Sens. 8, 876 (2016).
  35. Lee, H., Schuur, E. A. G. & Vogel, J. G. Soil CO2 production in upland tundra where permafrost is thawing. J. Geophys. Res. 115, G01009 (2010).
  36. Yan, L., Zhou, G. S., Wang, Y. H., Hu, T. Y. & Sui, X. H. The spatial and temporal dynamics of carbon budget in the alpine grasslands on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau using the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model. J. Clean. Prod. 107, 195201 (2015).
  37. Guillaume, T., Damris, M. & Kuzyakov, Y. Losses of soil carbon by converting tropical forest to plantations: erosion and decomposition estimated by δ13C. Glob. Change Biol. 21, 35483560 (2015).
  38. Li, D. et al. Simulating of the response of soil heterotrophic respiration to climate change and nitrogen deposition in alpine meadows. Acta Prataculturae Sin. 24, 111 (2015).
  39. Jin, Z., Zhuang, Q., He, J.-S., Zhu, X. & Song, W. Net exchanges of methane and carbon dioxide on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau from 1979 to 2100. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 085007 (2015).
  40. Piao, S. et al. The carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems in China. Nature 458, 10091013 (2009).
  41. Chen, L. et al. Determinants of carbon release from the active layer and permafrost deposits on the Tibetan Plateau. Nat. Commun. 7, 13046 (2016).
  42. Yang, M., Nelson, F. E., Shiklomanov, N. I., Guo, D. & Wan, G. Permafrost degradation and its environmental effects on the Tibetan Plateau: a review of recent research. Earth Sci. Rev. 103, 3144 (2010).
  43. Lu, H. et al. Distribution of carbon isotope composition of modern soils on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Biogeochemistry 70, 275299 (2004).
  44. Yang, Y. et al. Edaphic rather than climatic controls over 13C enrichment between soil and vegetation in alpine grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau. Funct. Ecol. 29, 839848 (2015).
  45. Nelson, D. & Sommers, L. Total carbon, organic carbon, and organic matter. in Methods of Soil Analysis II (ed. Page, A. L.) (American Society of Agronomy, 1982).
  46. Holben, B. N. Characteristics of maximum-value composite images from temporal AVHRR data. Int. J. Remote Sens. 7, 14171434 (1986).
  47. Bolker, B. M. et al. Generalized linear mixed models: a practical guide for ecology and evolution. Trends Ecol. Evol. 24, 127135 (2009).
  48. Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. J. Stat. Softw. 67, 148 (2015).
  49. R Core Team R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2016); https://www.R-project.org

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China

    • Jinzhi Ding,
    • Leiyi Chen,
    • Li Liu,
    • Shuqi Qin,
    • Beibei Zhang,
    • Guibiao Yang,
    • Fei Li,
    • Kai Fang,
    • Yongliang Chen,
    • Yunfeng Peng,
    • Xia Zhao,
    • Jingyun Fang &
    • Yuanhe Yang
  2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China

    • Jinzhi Ding,
    • Li Liu,
    • Shuqi Qin,
    • Guibiao Yang,
    • Fei Li,
    • Kai Fang &
    • Yuanhe Yang
  3. Department of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, and Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Chengjun Ji &
    • Jingyun Fang
  4. Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm 106 91, Sweden

    • Gustaf Hugelius
  5. Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Gustaf Hugelius
  6. Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining, Qinghai 810008, China

    • Yingnian Li
  7. Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China

    • Honglin He
  8. Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK

    • Pete Smith

Contributions

Y.Y. conceived and designed the experiment. J.D., Y.Y., C.J., G.Y., F.L., K.F. Y.C. and J.F. collected samples in the field. J.D., L.L., S.Q., B.Z. and K.F. processed and analysed samples in the lab. Y.L. and H.H. provided long-term biomass monitoring data, and eddy-covariance flux data set. X.Z. provided the NDVI data. J.D., Y.Y. and L.C. analysed the data. J.D., Y.Y. and L.C. drafted the manuscript. G.H., Y.P., P.S. and J.F. contributed to the revision of the manuscript. All authors commented on the analysis and presentation of the results.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to:

Author details

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. Supplementary Information (1,714 KB)

    Supplementary Information

Additional data