Climatic controls on carbon storage in seasonally frozen soils



When soil goes through an annual freeze-thaw cycle, the expansion and shrinkage of underground water causes a second cycle, one of heaving and sinking, that can produce unusual geometric patterns on the surface. Known as cryoturbation, this process drives buried boulders to the surface and lets fine particles settle in the holes left behind. In some regions, cryoturbation gives rise to circles on the surface (some a few meters wide): patches of bare soil ringed by rocks. In others, such as a site in northern Sweden analyzed by Becher et al., cryoturbation creates nonsorted circles: bare soil surrounded by trees or shrubs. The churning soil is inhospitable for the plants’ roots, and if anything, only a light dusting of moss or lichen covers the centers of the circles.