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Arctic-boreal lakes of interior Alaska dominated by contemporary carbon

November 24, 2023

Northern high-latitude lakes are critical sites for carbon processing and serve as potential conduits for the emission of permafrost-derived carbon and greenhouse gases. However, the fate and emission pathways of permafrost carbon in these systems remain uncertain. Here, we used the natural abundance of radiocarbon to identify and trace the predominant sources of methane, carbon dioxide, dissolved inorganic and organic carbon in nine lakes within the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in interior Alaska, a discontinuous permafrost region with high landscape heterogeneity and susceptibility to climate, permafrost, and hydrological changes. We find that although Yukon Flats lakes primarily process young carbon (modern to 1290 ± 60 years before present), permafrost-derived carbon is present in some of the sampled lakes and contributes, at most, 30 ± 10% of the dissolved carbon in lake surface waters. Apportionment of young carbon and legacy carbon (carbon with radiocarbon age ⩾5000 years before present) is decoupled among the dissolved inorganic and organic carbon species, with methane showing a stronger legacy signature. Our observations suggest that permafrost-thaw-related transport of carbon through Yukon Flats lacustrine ecosystems and into the atmosphere is small, and likely regulated by surficial sediments, permafrost distribution, wildfire occurrence, or masked by contemporary carbon processes. The heterogeneity of lakes across our study area and northern landscapes more broadly cautions against using any one region (e.g. Yedoma permafrost lakes) to upscale their contribution across the pan-Arctic.

Publication Year 2023
Title Arctic-boreal lakes of interior Alaska dominated by contemporary carbon
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/ad0993
Authors Fenix Garcia-Tigreros, Clayton D. Elder, Martin R. Kurek, Benjamin L. Miller, Xiaomei Xu, Kimberly Wickland, Cluadia I. Czimczik, Mark M. Dornblaser, Robert G. Striegl, Ethan D. Kyzivat, Laurence C. Smith, Robert G.M. Spencer, Charles E. Miller, David Butman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Research Letters
Index ID 70250167
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center