Arctic-boreal lakes of interior Alaska dominated by contemporary carbon

Environmental Research Letters
By: , and 



Northern high-latitude lakes are critical sites for carbon processing and serve as potential conduits for the emission of permafrost-derived carbon and greenhouse gases. However, the fate and emission pathways of permafrost carbon in these systems remain uncertain. Here, we used the natural abundance of radiocarbon to identify and trace the predominant sources of methane, carbon dioxide, dissolved inorganic and organic carbon in nine lakes within the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in interior Alaska, a discontinuous permafrost region with high landscape heterogeneity and susceptibility to climate, permafrost, and hydrological changes. We find that although Yukon Flats lakes primarily process young carbon (modern to 1290 ± 60 years before present), permafrost-derived carbon is present in some of the sampled lakes and contributes, at most, 30 ± 10% of the dissolved carbon in lake surface waters. Apportionment of young carbon and legacy carbon (carbon with radiocarbon age ⩾5000 years before present) is decoupled among the dissolved inorganic and organic carbon species, with methane showing a stronger legacy signature. Our observations suggest that permafrost-thaw-related transport of carbon through Yukon Flats lacustrine ecosystems and into the atmosphere is small, and likely regulated by surficial sediments, permafrost distribution, wildfire occurrence, or masked by contemporary carbon processes. The heterogeneity of lakes across our study area and northern landscapes more broadly cautions against using any one region (e.g. Yedoma permafrost lakes) to upscale their contribution across the pan-Arctic.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Arctic-boreal lakes of interior Alaska dominated by contemporary carbon
Series title Environmental Research Letters
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/ad0993
Volume 18
Issue 12
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher IOP Publishing
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 124024, 11 p.
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Boot Lake, Canvasback Lake, Greenpepper Lake, Shack Lake, Thumb Lake, Twelvemile Lake, Twin Lake, West Crazy Lake, YF18 Lake, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
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