More than methane: quantifying melt-driven biogas production and nutrient export from Eurasian Arctic lowland permafrost

Project website

Leading Principal Investigator: Prof. Andrew Hodson, University of Sheffield, UK

The importance of the oceans for heat transfer into the Arctic means that the low altitude and very extensive permafrost lowlands here can respond quickly and significantly to climate change. In the Eurasian Arctic this causes the early onset of melt, increased active layer thickness and enhanced microbial activity. It is now known that the vast soil carbon stocks of Arctic permafrost are vulnerable to these changes, but accurate forecasting of its influence on the global climate system cannot be achieved until the following knowledge gaps are addressed:

1) Microbially-mediated processes at the active layer/permafrost interface will control the in-situ production of new biogases and nutrients in response to warming by (extrinsic) climate forcing. However, at the landscape scale, these crucial biogeochemical processes are governed by poorly understood intrinsic (hydrological, geomorphological and ecological) drivers yet to be incorporated into regional models.

2) Runoff from extensive permafrost lowlands in the Eurasian Arctic is a quantitatively important source of iron, nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter to already highly productive marine ecosystems. The fertilisation potential of such chemical fluxes entering the sea must be urgently quantified as it will induce further change in the CO2 budget, via biological production, and thus initiate marine ecosystem change.

This project will address these key issues with an integrated programme of field work, laboratory experimentation, numerical modelling and workshops. We will use Russian and Norwegian field logistics from West Spitsbergen to Siberia, and laboratories in the UK and Denmark. Major polar science practitioners from outside the consortium with expertise in regional modelling, isotope geochemistry, marine ecosystem change and biogeochemical cycling will enhance the international profile and impact of the project via knowledge exchange activities that include two workshops.