Articles | Volume 9, issue 2
Research article
02 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 02 Mar 2015

Low below-ground organic carbon storage in a subarctic Alpine permafrost environment

M. Fuchs, P. Kuhry, and G. Hugelius

Abstract. This study investigates the soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in Tarfala Valley, northern Sweden. Field inventories, upscaled based on land cover, show that this alpine permafrost environment does not store large amounts of SOC, with an estimate mean of 0.9 ± 0.2 kg C m−2 for the upper meter of soil. This is 1 to 2 orders of magnitude lower than what has been reported for lowland permafrost terrain. The SOC storage varies for different land cover classes and ranges from 0.05 kg C m−2 for stone-dominated to 8.4 kg C m−2 for grass-dominated areas. No signs of organic matter burial through cryoturbation or slope processes were found, and radiocarbon-dated SOC is generally of recent origin (<2000 cal yr BP). An inventory of permafrost distribution in Tarfala Valley, based on the bottom temperature of snow measurements and a logistic regression model, showed that at an altitude where permafrost is probable the SOC storage is very low. In the high-altitude permafrost zones (above 1500 m), soils store only ca. 0.1 kg C m−2. Under future climate warming, an upward shift of vegetation zones may lead to a net ecosystem C uptake from increased biomass and soil development. As a consequence, alpine permafrost environments could act as a net carbon sink in the future, as there is no loss of older or deeper SOC from thawing permafrost.