Image by Victor O. Leshyk, Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Northern Arizona University
Thawing permafrost affects plant and soils in tundra ecosystems, and ultimately the storage of carbon in permafrost soils. The surface of tundra subsides as ice in permafrost melts and drains. This can mask the loss of soil carbon through time that occurs as a result of soil microbial activity converting soil organic matter into greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. Accounting for ground subsidence as a result of thaw revealed that substantial quantities of soil carbon were loss both directly to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but also dissolve in water that drained from this site. Soil carbon loss from permafrost ecosystems that ends up in the atmosphere at greenhouse gases can ultimately accelerate climate change.