EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Sensitivity of organic carbon fluxes from Arctic coastal erosion to climate change

David Marcolino Nielsen1,2, Patrick Pieper1, Victor Brovkin1,3, Paul Overduin4, Tatiana Ilyina3, Johanna Baehr1, and Mikhail Dobrynin1,5
David Marcolino Nielsen et al.
  • 1Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany (
  • 2International Max Planck Research School on Earth System Modelling, Hamburg, Germany
  • 3Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
  • 4Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, Germany
  • 5Deutscher Wetterdienst, Hamburg, Germany

When unprotected by sea-ice and exposed to the warm air and ocean waves, the Arctic coast erodes and releases organic carbon from permafrost to the surrounding ocean and atmosphere. This release is estimated to deliver similar amounts of organic carbon to the Arctic Ocean as all Arctic rivers combined, at the present-day climate. Depending on the degradation pathway of the eroded material, the erosion of the Arctic coast could represent a positive feedback loop in the climate system, to an extent still unknown. In addition, the organic carbon flux from Arctic coastal erosion is expected to increase in the future, mainly due to surface warming and sea-ice loss. In this work, we aim at addressing the following questions: How is Arctic coastal erosion projected to change in the future? How sensitive is Arctic coastal erosion to climate change?

To address these questions, we use a 10-member ensemble of climate change simulations performed with the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM) for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 6 (CMIP6) to make projections of coastal erosion at a pan-Arctic scale. We use a semi-empirical approach to model Arctic coastal erosion, assuming a linear contribution of its thermal and mechanical drivers. The pan-Arctic carbon release due to coastal erosion is projected to increase from 6.9 ± 5.4 TgC/year (mean estimate ± two standard deviations from the distribution of uncertainties) during the historical period (mean over 1850 -1950) to between 13.1 ± 6.7 TgC/year and 17.2 ± 8.2 TgC/year in the period 2081-2100 following an intermediate (SSP2.4-5) and a high-end (SSP5.8-5) climate change scenario, respectively. The sensitivity of the organic carbon release from Arctic coastal erosion to climate warming is estimated to range from 1.52 TgC/year/K to 2.79 TgC/year/K depending on the scenario. Our results present the first projections of Arctic coastal erosion, combining observations and Earth system model (ESM) simulations. This allows us to make first-order estimates of sensitivity and feedback magnitudes between Arctic coastal erosion and climate change, which can lay out pathways for future coupled ESM simulations.


How to cite: Nielsen, D. M., Pieper, P., Brovkin, V., Overduin, P., Ilyina, T., Baehr, J., and Dobrynin, M.: Sensitivity of organic carbon fluxes from Arctic coastal erosion to climate change, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13268,, 2021.

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