Research on permafrost carbon has dramatically increased in the past few years. A new estimate of 1672 Pg C of belowground organic carbon in the northern circumpolar permafrost region more than doubles the previous value and highlights the potential role of permafrost carbon in the Earth System. Uncertainties in this new estimate remain due to relatively few available pedon data for certain geographic sectors and the deeper cryoturbated soil horizons, and the large polygon size in the soil maps used for upscaling. The large permafrost carbon pool is not equally distributed across the landscape: peat deposits, cryoturbated soils and the loess-like deposits of the yedoma complex contain disproportionately large amounts of soil organic matter, often exhibiting a low degree of decomposition. Recent findings in Alaska and northern Sweden provide strong evidence that the deeper soil carbon in permafrost terrain is starting to be released, supporting previous reports from Siberia. The permafrost carbon pool is not yet fully integrated in climate and ecosystem models and an important objective should be to define typical pedons appropriate for model setups. The thawing permafrost carbon feedback needs to be included in model projections of future climate change. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.