Variability in above- and belowground carbon stocks in a Siberian larch watershed
Permafrost soils store between 1330 and 1580 Pg carbon (C), which is 3 times the amount of C in global vegetation, almost twice the amount of C in the atmosphere, and half of the global soil organic C pool. Despite the massive amount of C in permafrost, estimates of soil C storage in the high-latitude permafrost region are highly uncertain, primarily due to undersampling at all spatial scales; circumpolar soil C estimates lack sufficient continental spatial diversity, regional intensity, and replication at the field-site level. Siberian forests are particularly undersampled, yet the larch forests that dominate this region may store more than twice as much soil C as all other boreal forest types in the continuous permafrost zone combined. Here we present above- and belowground C stocks from 20 sites representing a gradient of stand age and structure in a larch watershed of the Kolyma River, near Chersky, Sakha Republic, Russia. We found that the majority of C stored in the top 1 m of the watershed was stored belowground (92 %), with 19 % in the top 10 cm of soil and 40 % in the top 30 cm. Carbon was more variable in surface soils (10 cm; coefficient of variation (CV) = 0.35 between stands) than in the top 30 cm (CV = 0.14) or soil profile to 1 m (CV = 0.20). Combined active-layer and deep frozen deposits (surface – 15 m) contained 205 kg C m −2 (yedoma, non-ice wedge) and 331 kg C m −2 (alas), which, even when accounting for landscape-level ice content, is an order of magnitude more C than that stored in the top meter of soil and 2 orders of magnitude more C than in aboveground biomass. Aboveground biomass was composed of primarily larch (53 %) but also included understory vegetation (30 %), woody debris (11 %) and snag (6 %) biomass. While aboveground biomass contained relatively little (8 %) of the C stocks in the watershed, aboveground processes were linked to thaw depth and belowground C storage. Thaw depth was negatively related to stand age, and soil C density (top 10 cm) was positively related to soil moisture and negatively related to moss and lichen cover. These results suggest that, as the climate warms, changes in stand age and structure may be as important as direct climate effects on belowground environmental conditions and permafrost C vulnerability.