Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Permafrost thawing puts the frozen carbon at risk over the Tibetan Plateau

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Science Advances  06 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 19, eaaz3513
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz3513

Abstract

Soil organic carbon (SOC) stored in permafrost across the high-latitude/altitude Northern Hemisphere represents an important potential carbon source under future warming. Here, we provide a comprehensive investigation on the spatiotemporal dynamics of SOC over the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau (TP), which has received less attention compared with the circum-Arctic region. The permafrost region covers ~42% of the entire TP and contains ~37.21 Pg perennially frozen SOC at the baseline period (2006–2015). With continuous warming, the active layer is projected to further deepen, resulting in ~1.86 ± 0.49 Pg and ~3.80 ± 0.76 Pg permafrost carbon thawing by 2100 under moderate and high representative concentration pathways (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), respectively. This could largely offset the regional carbon sink and even potentially turn the region into a net carbon source. Our findings also highlight the importance of deep permafrost thawing that is generally ignored in current Earth system models.

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