Permafrost Carbon Network

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The Permafrost Carbon Network is part of the multi-million dollar Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) project. The SEARCH project, headed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks as the lead institution and Northern Arizona University as one partner, is a system-scale, cross-disciplinary research program that seeks to connect the science of Arctic change to decision makers. Three Action Teams comprise a core structural aspect of SEARCH, each focused on data synthesis and model development with projections used to advance current knowledge of a changing Arctic. The Permafrost Action Team, led by Ted Schuur will, in part, support activities developed by the Permafrost Carbon Network. The network has been successfully running for the last five years and includes more than 300 sicentist from 88 research institutions located in 17 countries.

Approximately 1330-1580 Pg of soil carbon are estimated to be stored in soils and permafrost of high latitude ecosystems (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) which is twice as much carbon as is currently contained in the atmosphere. In a warmer world permafrost thawing and decomposition of previously frozen organic carbon is one of the more likely positive feedbacks from terrestrial ecosystems to the atmosphere. Although ground temperature increases in permafrost regions are well documented there is a knowledge gap in the response of permafrost carbon to climate change.

The Permafrost Carbon Network builds on several previous synthesis efforts. These former activities include:


  1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) working group on the Vulnerability of carbon in permafrost: Pool size and potential effects on the climate system (see also Schuur et al. 2008)

  3. International Permafrost Association (IPA) sponsored Carbon Pools in Cryosphere Region (CAPP) project which specifically focused on permafrost carbon pools including total below-ground organic matter quantity and quality in the presence of permafrost (see also Kuhry et al. 2009).



The main objectives of this network are to synthesize and link existing research about permafrost carbon and climate in a format that can be assimilated by biospheric and climate models, and that will contribute to future assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Our activities include a series of meetings and working groups designed to synthesize ongoing permafrost carbon research which will produce new knowledge to quantify the role of permafrost carbon in driving climate change in the 21st century and beyond.


permafrost distribution NSCD map

Fig. 1. Latitudinal zonation of permafrost. (Source: Brown and colleagues 1998)

Fig. 2. Spatial extent of the Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon Database (NSCD) and the estimated soil organic carbon content to a depth of 1m (Source: Hugelius et al. 2012)