Large loss of CO2 in winter observed across the northern permafrost region

Natali, S. M. and Coauthors, 2019: Large loss of CO2 in winter observed across the northern permafrost region. Nature Climate Change 9(11):852-857, doi: 10.1038/s41558-019-0592-8.


Recent warming in the Arctic, which has been amplified during the winter, greatly enhances microbial decomposition of soil organic matter and subsequent release of carbon dioxide (CO2). However, the amount of CO2 released in winter is not known and has not been well represented by ecosystem models or empirically based estimates. Here we synthesize regional in situ observations of CO2 flux from Arctic and boreal soils to assess current and future winter carbon losses from the northern permafrost domain. We estimate a contemporary loss of 1,662 TgC per year from the permafrost region during the winter season (October–April). This loss is greater than the average growing season carbon uptake for this region estimated from process models (−1,032 TgC per year). Extending model predictions to warmer conditions up to 2100 indicates that winter CO2 emissions will increase 17% under a moderate mitigation scenario—Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5—and 41% under business-as-usual emissions scenario—Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5. Our results provide a baseline for winter CO2 emissions from northern terrestrial regions and indicate that enhanced soil CO2 loss due to winter warming may offset growing season carbon uptake under future climatic conditions.