Mapping the degree of decomposition and thaw remobilization potential of soil organic matter in discontinuous permafrost terrain


Corresponding author: G. Hugelius, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden. (


[1] Soil organic matter (SOM) stored in permafrost terrain is a key component in the global carbon cycle, but its composition and lability are largely unknown. We characterize and assess the degree of decomposition of SOM at nine sites representing major land-cover and soil types (including peat deposits) in an area of discontinuous permafrost in the European Russian Arctic. We analyze the elemental and stable isotopic composition of bulk SOM, and the degree of humification and elemental composition of humic acids (HA). The degree of decomposition is low in the O-horizons of mineral soils and peat deposits. In the permafrost free non-peatland soils there is enrichment of13C and 15N, and decrease in bulk C/N ratios indicating more decomposed material with depth. Spectral characterization of HA indicates low humification in O-horizons and peat deposits, but increase in humification in the deeper soil horizons of non-peatland soils, and in mineral horizons underlying peat deposits. GIS based maps indicate that less decomposed OM characteristic of the O-horizon and permafrost peat deposits constitute the bulk of landscape SOM (>70% of landscape soil C). We conclude, however, that permafrost has not been the key environmental factor controlling the current degree of decomposition of SOM in this landscape due to relatively recent permafrost aggradation. In this century, active layer deepening will mainly affect SOM with a relatively high degree of decomposition in deeper mineral soil horizons. Additionally, thawing permafrost in peat plateaus may cause rapid remobilization of less decomposed SOM through thermokarst expansion.