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Title: Effect of warming on the degradation and production of low-molecular-weight labile organic carbon in an Arctic tundra soil

The fate of soil organic carbon (SOC) stored in the Arctic permafrost is a key concern as temperatures continue to rise in the northern hemisphere. Studies and conceptual models suggest that SOC degradation is affected by the composition of SOC, but it is unclear exactly what portions of SOC are vulnerable to rapid breakdown and what mechanisms may be controlling SOC degradation upon permafrost thaw. Here, we examine the dynamic consumption and production of labile SOC in an anoxic incubation experiment using soil samples from the active layer at the Barrow Environmental Observatory, Barrow, Alaska, USA. Free-reducing sugars, alcohols, and low-molecular-weight (LMW) organic acids were analyzed during incubation at either –2 or 8 °C for up to 240 days. Results show that simple sugar and alcohol SOC largely account for the initial rapid release of CO 2 and CH 4 through anaerobic fermentation, whereas the fermentation products, acetate and formate, are subsequently utilized as primary substrates for methanogenesis. Iron(III) reduction is correlated to acetate production and methanogenesis, suggesting its important role as an electron acceptor in tundra SOC respiration. These observations are further supported in a glucose addition experiment, in which rapid CO 2 and CH 4 production occurred concurrentlymore » with rapid production and consumption of labile organics such as acetate. However, addition of tannic acid, as a more complex organic substrate, showed little influence on the overall production of CO 2 and CH 4 and organic acids. Together our study shows that LMW labile organics in SOC control the initial rapid release of green-house gases upon warming. We thus present a conceptual framework for the labile SOC transformations and their relations to fermentation, iron reduction and methanogenesis, thereby providing the basis for improved model prediction of climate feedbacks in the Arctic.« less
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  1. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 95; Journal Issue: 1; Journal ID: ISSN 0038-0717
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Country of Publication:
United States
58 GEOSCIENCES; 54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; soil carbon degradation; climate warming; anaerobic fermentation; methanogenesis; biogeochemistry; Arctic tundra
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1342799