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High riverine CO2 emissions at the permafrost boundary of Western Siberia


The fate of the vast stocks of organic carbon stored in permafrost of the Western Siberian Lowland, the world’s largest peatland, is uncertain. Specifically, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from rivers in the region is unknown. Here we present estimates of annual CO2 emissions from 58 rivers across all permafrost zones of the Western Siberian Lowland, between 56 and 67° N. We find that emissions peak at the permafrost boundary, and decrease where permafrost is more prevalent and in colder climatic conditions. River CO2 emissions were high, and on average two times greater than downstream carbon export. We suggest that high emissions and emission/export ratios are a result of warm temperatures and the long transit times of river water. We show that rivers in the Western Siberian Lowland play an important role in the carbon cycle by degassing terrestrial carbon before its transport to the Arctic Ocean, and suggest that changes in both temperature and precipitation are important for understanding and predicting high-latitude river CO2 emissions in a changing climate.

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Fig. 1: Map of the study sites in the WSL, Russia.
Fig. 2: Annual river CO2 emissions per unit of water area across different permafrost zones.
Fig. 3: Climate-dependent factors controlling river CO2 emissions across different permafrost zones.
Fig. 4: A conceptual model for changes in CO2 emissions and downstream C export from permafrost-draining river network with warming.


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The study was part of the JPI Climate initiative, financially supported by VR (the Swedish Research Council) grant no. 325-2014-6898 to J.K. Additional funding from RNF (RSCF) grant no. 18-17-00237, RFBR grant no. 17-55-16008 and RF Federal Target Program RFMEFI58717X0036 ‘Kolmogorov’ to O.S.P. and S.N.K. as well as NERC grant no. NE/M019896/1 to C.S. is acknowledged. The authors thank A. Sorochinskiy and A. Lim for assistance in the field, as well as M. Myrstener, M. Klaus and S. Monteux for advice on data analysis. L. Kovaleva is acknowledged for artwork.

Author information




J.K. and O.S.P. contributed to study design. S.N.K. organized sampling campaigns and logistics. S.S., R.M.M., I.V.K. and V.K. contributed to sampling. L.S.S. analysed the DOC and DIC samples. S.G.K. complemented data with literature material. S.S. analysed data, and prepared figures and tables. S.S., J.K., O.S.P. and H.L. wrote the paper. C.S., D.T. and P.A. helped with interpreting the results. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to S. Serikova or J. Karlsson.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–5

Supplementary Dataset

Water chemistry parameters and watershed characteristics for each river sampled

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Serikova, S., Pokrovsky, O.S., Ala-Aho, P. et al. High riverine CO2 emissions at the permafrost boundary of Western Siberia. Nature Geosci 11, 825–829 (2018).

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