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Keywords:

  • active layer;
  • salt accumulation;
  • seasonal thawing;
  • soil moisture;
  • permafrost

Abstract

Observations of soil moisture and salt content were conducted from May to August at Neleger station in eastern Siberia. Seasonal changes of salt and soil moisture distribution in the active layer of larch forest (undisturbed) and a thermokarst depression known as an alas (disturbed) were studied. Electric conductivity ECe of the intact forest revealed higher concentrations that increased with depth from the soil surface into the active layer and the underlying permafrost: 1 mS cm−1 at 1·1 m, to 2·6 mS cm−1 at 160 cm depth in the permafrost. However, a maximum value of 5·4 mS cm−1 at 0·6 m depth was found in the dry area of the alas. The concentration of ions, especially Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, SO42− and HCO3 in the upper layers of this long-term disturbed site, indicates the upward movement of ions together with water. A higher concentration of solutes was found in profiles with deeper seasonal thawing. The accumulation of salts in the alas occurs from spring through into the growing season. The low concentration of salt in the surface soil layers appears to be linked to leaching of salts by rainfall. There are substantial differences between water content and electric conductivity of soil in the forest and alas. Modern salinization of the active layer in the alas is epigenetic, and it happens in summer as a result of spring water collection and high summer evaporation; the gradual salt accumulation in the alas in comparison with the forest is controlled by the annual balance of water and salts in the active layer. Present climatic trends point to continuous permafrost degradation in eastern Siberia increasing the risk of surface salinization, which has already contributed to changing the landscape by hindering the growth of forest. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.