Arctic Carbon

It is important to understand decomposition in the places where it matters most, like the Arctic, where soils accumulate carbon-rich organic matter because decomposition rates are slower than plant growth. However, the Arctic is warming much faster than other parts of the Earth, potentially shifting the balance between decomposition and plant growth. For example, the Arctic treeline is rapidly advancing northward with warming, changing both plant growth and the depth of snow in winter, altering soil temperature as a result. How will this affect Arctic ecosystems and the amount of soil carbon they store or lose to the atmosphere? This lesson describes how decomposition and plant growth in Arctic ecosystems are changing with warming and how scientists are studying these processes.


Image: Global soil organic carbon map [Source]

Image: Global Biomes Map [Source]

Image: Global and Arctic annual land-surface air temperature differences from 1961 to 1990 average (adapted from Brohan et al., 2006) [Source]

Images: Arctic Tundra Treeline
1952 image USGS Earth Explorer [Source]
2007 image WorldView satellite images [Source]

Image: Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming [Source]

Arctic Carbon Icon