Surface exposure to sunlight stimulates CO2 release from permafrost soil carbon in the Arctic
Recent climate change has increased arctic soil temperatures and thawed large areas of permafrost, allowing for microbial respiration of previously frozen C. Furthermore, soil destabilization from melting ice has caused an increase in thermokarst failures that expose buried C and release dissolved organic C (DOC) to surface waters. Once exposed, the fate of this C is unknown but will depend on its reactivity to sunlight and microbial attack, and the light available at the surface. In this study we manipulated water released from areas of thermokarst activity to show that newly exposed DOC is >40% more susceptible to microbial conversion to CO2 when exposed to UV light than when kept dark. When integrated over the water column of receiving rivers, this susceptibility translates to the light-stimulated bacterial activity being on average from 11% to 40% of the total areal activity in turbid versus DOC-colored rivers, respectively. The range of DOC lability to microbes seems to depend on prior light exposure, implying that sunlight may act as an amplification factor in the conversion of frozen C stores to C gases in the atmosphere.