Process-oriented modeling of soil organic matter dynamics in permafrost regions

Networking scheme of work package 6


Projected future climate change, together with huge amounts of soil organic matter stored in the Arctic region, holds a high potential for a positive climate-carbon cycle feedback mechanism. The main questions here are: how will a change of soil temperature affect site hydrology by changing thaw depth dynamics, and how will these two physical factors, temperature and water content, alter the regional balance of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane? And how strong will a positive feedback of such greenhouse gas emissions to climate change be?

In order to address these overarching questions, WP 6 concentrates on generalizing our observation-based process understanding of soil organic matter dynamics in permafrost regions such that a mathematical description of the processes can be implemented into the Max Planck Earth System Model. Specific focuses will be on methane production, oxidation and transport processes in permafrost soils as well as soil organic matter vertical transport affected by freezing / thawing (cryoturbation). The advanced model will be applied at site level for calibration / validation but also on pan-Arctic scale in order to estimate the current and future Arctic carbon balance. Finally, coupling to the atmosphere model ECHAM will allow the investigation of feedback mechanisms.

Last progress

For reaching the overall objectives a few first steps have been achieved:

  • The MPI-ESM has been advanced by cold-regions specific physical processes, such as snow dynamics, surface insulation and latent heat of change which lead to a realistic representation of physics in permafrost soils (Ekici et al., Geoscientific Model Development, 2014)
  • A model of peatland hydrology and biogeochemistry has been developed and implemented in MPI-ESM
  • A general model of soil organic matter transport in soils has been developed (Braakhekke et al., Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, 2014) which needs to be adjusted for cryosols
  • Permafrost carbon decomposition rates have been derived (Knoblauch et al., Global Change Biology, 2013) for several samples based on laboratory incubation experiments (collaboration with WP 4 and WP 5). However, a general model describing all different incubation experiments is still lacking.

German applicants

Dr. Christian Beer & Prof. Dr. Markus Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena

Dr. Victor Brovkin, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg

Russian partner

Dr. Alexey Eliseev, IAP-RAS, Moscow


Sonja Kaiser, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena

Fabio Cresto Aleina, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena

Thomas Kleinen, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg

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