EGU21-3220, updated on 03 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Divergent responses of permafrost peatlands to recent climate change

Thomas Sim1, Graeme Swindles2,3, Paul Morris1, Andy Baird1, Claire Cooper4, Angela Gallego-Sala5, Dan Charman5, Thomas Roland5, Werner Borken6, Donal Mullan2, Marco Aquino-López7, and Mariusz Gałka8
Thomas Sim et al.
  • 1School of Geography, University of Leeds, , Leeds, UK (
  • 2Geography, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  • 3Ottawa Carleton Geoscience Centre and Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • 4School of Geography, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK
  • 5Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  • 6Bayreuth Center of Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER), University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany
  • 7Centre for Research in Mathematics, CIMAT, Guanajuato, Mexico
  • 8Department of Geobotany and Plant Ecology, University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland

Permafrost peatlands are found in high-latitude regions and store globally-important amounts of soil organic carbon. These regions are warming at over twice the global average rate, causing permafrost thaw and exposing previously inert carbon to decomposition and emission to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. However, it is unclear how peatland hydrological behaviour, vegetation structure and carbon balance, and the linkages between them, will respond to permafrost thaw in a warming climate. Here we show that permafrost peatlands follow divergent ecohydrological trajectories in response to recent climate change within the same rapidly warming region (northern Sweden). Whether a site becomes wetter or drier depends on local factors and the autogenic response of individual peatlands. We find that bryophyte-dominated vegetation demonstrates resistance, and in some cases resilience, to climatic and hydrological shifts. Drying at four sites is clearly associated with reduced carbon sequestration, while no clear relationship at wetting sites is observed. We highlight the complex dynamics of permafrost peatlands and warn against an overly-simple approach when considering their ecohydrological trajectories and role as C sinks under a warming climate.   

How to cite: Sim, T., Swindles, G., Morris, P., Baird, A., Cooper, C., Gallego-Sala, A., Charman, D., Roland, T., Borken, W., Mullan, D., Aquino-López, M., and Gałka, M.: Divergent responses of permafrost peatlands to recent climate change, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-3220,, 2021.