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Subsea permafrost carbon stocks and climate change sensitivity estimated by expert assessment

December 20, 2020

The continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas contain large stocks of organic matter (OM) and methane (CH4), representing a potential ecosystem feedback to climate change not included in international climate agreements. We performed a structured expert assessment with 25 permafrost researchers to combine quantitative estimates of the stocks and sensitivity of organic carbon in the subsea permafrost domain (i.e. unglaciated portions of the continental shelves exposed during the last glacial period). Experts estimated that the subsea permafrost domain contains ~560 gigatons carbon (GtC; 170–740, 90% confidence interval) in OM and 45 GtC (10–110) in CH4. Current fluxes of CH4 and carbon dioxide (CO2) to the water column were estimated at 18 (2–34) and 38 (13–110) megatons C yr−1, respectively. Under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) RCP8.5, the subsea permafrost domain could release 43 Gt CO2-equivalent (CO2e) by 2100 (14–110) and 190 Gt CO2e by 2300 (45–590), with ~30% fewer emissions under RCP2.6. The range of uncertainty demonstrates a serious knowledge gap but provides initial estimates of the magnitude and timing of the subsea permafrost climate feedback.

Publication Year 2020
Title Subsea permafrost carbon stocks and climate change sensitivity estimated by expert assessment
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/abcc29
Authors Sara Sayedi, Benjamin Abbott, B.F. Thornton, Jennifer M. Frederick, Jorien E. Vonk, Paul Overduin, Christina Schadel, E.A.G. Schuur, A. Bourbonnais, N. Demidova, Anatoly Gavrilov, Shengping He, Gustaf Gustaf Hugelius, Martin Jakobsson, Miriam C. Jones, DoongJoo Joung, Gleb Kraev, Robie W. Macdonald, A. David McGuire, Cuicui Mu, M. O'Regan, Kathryn M. Schreiner, Christian Stranne, Elena Pizhankova, A. Vasiliev, S. Westermann, Jay P. Zarnetske, Tingjun Zhang, M Ghandehari, Sarah Baeumler, Brian C. Brown, Rebecca J. Frei
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Research Letters
Index ID 70219507
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Florence Bascom Geoscience Center