U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Geochemical Analysis of Permafrost Soils Reveals Factors Controlling Methane Emissions from Arctic Tundra
Published: November 23, 2015
Posted: May 06, 2016

A recent study measured the changes in dissolved organic carbon compounds during anoxic incubations of low-centered polygon soils from the Barrow Environmental Observatory in Alaska (Herndon et al. 2015a). Analyses used Fourier transform infrared and ultraviolet-visible spectroscopies to identify an initial increase in soluble carbohydrate and organic acid pools, followed by a decline in organic acids. These results describe the upstream microbial processes of soil organic matter decomposition that feed anaerobic microbial fermentation, methanogenesis, and iron reduction, which are highly temperature-sensitive processes and thus likely to control rate and magnitude of methane emissions from thawing permafrost. In a companion study, samples from mineral and organic soils were analyzed at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource to further characterize the geochemistry of active layer soils and permafrost (Herndon et al. 2015b). From those results, the researchers infer that geochemical differences induced by water saturation dictate microbial products of soil organic matter decomposition, and that iron geochemistry is an important factor regulating methanogenesis in anoxic tundra soils. Together, these coordinated datasets provided a conceptual framework from which to parameterize and enhance fine-scale biogeochemical models from the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Arctic project that specifically represent these anaerobic processes. The datasets are being used to assess the effects of newly represented iron-reduction processes on simulations of carbon dioxide, methane, and pH production in one-dimensional models.

Herndon, E. M., B. F. Mann, T. R. Chowdhury, Z. Yang, D. E. Graham, S. D. Wullschleger, L. Liang, and B. Gu. 2015a. “Pathways of Anaerobic Organic Matter Decomposition in Tundra Soils from Barrow, Alaska,” Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences 120, 2345-59. DOI: 10.1002/2015JG003147. (Reference link)

Herndon, E. M., Z. Yang, J. Bargar, N. Janot, T. Z. Regier, D. E. Graham, S. D. Wullschleger, B. Gu, and L. Liang. 2015b. “Geochemical Drivers of Organic Matter Decomposition in the Active Layer of Arctic Tundra Soils,” Biogeochemistry 126(3), 397-414. DOI: 10.1007/s10533-015-0165-5. (Reference link)

Contact: Jared DeForest, SC-23, (301) 903-3251, Daniel Stover, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0289
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Subsurface Biogeochemical Research
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: Structural Biology Infrastructure

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)