Evidence for permafrost thaw and transport from an Alaskan North Slope watershed

Kathryn M. Schreiner, Thomas S. Bianchi, Brad E. Rosenheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Burial of organic carbon (OC) in marine sediments is one of the most important linkages between the short-term biologic carbon cycle and the long-term geologic carbon cycle. Yet much is still unknown about the fate of terrigenous OC in marine coastal margins. Here the delivery of particulate OC (POC) to the Colville River deltaic region in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea by particulates of varying densities is studied through the use of ramped temperature pyrolysis and radiocarbon analyses. The Colville River is the largest river in North America whose watershed is underlain completely by high Arctic permafrost tundra. A variety of sources of POC are considered, including terrestrial soils, Pleistocene-aged yedoma-like sediments, coastal peat erosion, and marine POC. We provide the first evidence that riverine POC from the Colville River contains old (Pleistocene-sourced) OC, suggesting ongoing thaw and mobilization of yedoma-like permafrost OC from this northern Alaskan watershed. Additionally, much of this OC appears to be fairly labile and therefore could be readily oxidized and returned to the atmosphere. Key Points Deep permafrost POC breakdown is indicated in the Alaskan Arctic Coastal peaty shoreline erosion is indicated in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea Ramped-temperature pyrolysis analysis indicates POC source in Arctic sediments

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3117-3126
Number of pages10
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 16 2014


  • Beaufort Sea
  • Colville River
  • POC
  • permafrost thaw
  • radiocarbon
  • ramped-temperature pyrolysis


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