Increased Nutrient Availability Speeds up Permafrost Development, While Goose Grazing Slows it Down in a Canadian High Arctic Wetland

Lucas Deschamps
Vincent Maire
Lin Chen
Daniel Fortier
Gilles Gauthier
Amélie Morneault
Elisabeth Hardy-Lachance
Isabelle Dalcher- Gosselin
François Tanguay
Charles Gignac
Jeffrey McKenzie
Line Rochefort
Esther Lévesque
Resource Date:

1.  It is of prime importance to understand feedbacks due to the release of carbon (C) stored in permafrost soils (permafrost-climate feedback) and direct impacts of climatic variations on permafrost dynamics therefore received considerable attention. However, indirect effects of global change, such as the variation in soil nutrient availability and grazing pressure, can alter soil and surface properties of the Arctic tundra, with the potential to modify soil heat transfers toward the permafrost and impact resilience of Arctic ecosystems.

2.  We determined the potential of nutrient availability and grazing to alter soil energy balance using a 16-year split- plot experiment crossing fertilization at different doses of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) with protection from goose grazing. Moss biomass and some determinants of the surface energy budget (leaf area index (LAI), dead vascular plant biomass and albedo) were quantified and active layer thaw depth repeatedly measured during three growing seasons. We measured soil physical properties and thermal conductivity and used a physical model to link topsoil organic accumulation processes to heat transfer.

3.  Fertilization increased LAI and albedo, whereas grazing decreased dead vascular plant biomass and albedo. Fertilization increased organic accumulation at the top of the soil leading to drier and more porous topsoil, whereas grazing in-creased water content of topsoil. As a result, topsoil thermal conductivity was higher in grazed plots than in ungrazed ones. Including these properties into a simulation model, we showed that, after 16 years, nutrient addition tended to shallow the active layer whereas grazing deepened mean July active layer by 3.3 cm relative to ungrazed subplots. As a result of OM accumulation at the surface, fertilization increased permafrost vertical aggradation rate by almost an order of magnitude (up to 5 mm year-1 instead of 0.7 mm year−1), whereas grazing slowed down permafrost aggradation by reducing surface uprising and deepening thaw depth.

4. Synthesis.  We  demonstrated  that  long-term  grazing  and  N  and  P  addition, through their impact on vegetation and soil properties have the potential to impact permafrost dynamics to the same extent as contemporary temperature increase in High Arctic polygonal wetlands.