The paleoclimatic footprint in the soil carbon stock of the Tibetan permafrost region

Jinzhi Ding, Tao Wang (Corresponding Author), Shilong Piao, Pete Smith, Ganlin Zhang, Zhengjie Yan, Shuai Ren, Dan Liu, Shiping Wang, Shengyun Chen, Fuqiang Dai, Jin-Sheng He, Yingnian Li, Yongwen Liu, Jiafu Mao, Altaf Arain, Hanqin Tian, Xiaoying Shi, Yuanhe Yang, Ning ZengLin Zhao

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Tibetan permafrost largely formed during the late Pleistocene glacial period and shrank in the Holocene Thermal Maximum period. Quantifying the impacts of paleoclimatic extremes on soil carbon stock can shed light on the vulnerability of permafrost carbon in the future. Here, we synthesize data from 1114 sites across the Tibetan permafrost region to report that paleoclimate is more important than modern climate in shaping current permafrost carbon distribution, and its importance increases with soil depth, mainly through forming the soil physiochemical properties. We derive a new estimate of modern soil carbon stock to 3 m depth by including the paleoclimate effects, and find that the stock (36.6 -2.4+2.3 PgC) is triple that predicted by ecosystem models (11.5 ± 4.2 s.e.m PgC), which use pre-industrial climate to initialize the soil carbon pool. The discrepancy highlights the urgent need to incorporate paleoclimate information into model initialization for simulating permafrost soil carbon stocks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4195
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Data and code availability
The authors declare that the majority of the data supporting the findings of this study are available through the links given in the paper. The unpublished data are available from the corresponding author upon request. The new estimate of Tibetan soil carbon stock and R code are available in a persistent repository (

This study was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20050101), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41871104), Key Research and Development Programs for Global Change and Adaptation (2017YFA0603604), International Partnership Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (131C11KYSB20160061) and the Thousand Youth Talents Plan project in China. Jinzhi Ding acknowledges the General (2017M620922) and the Special Grade (2018T110144) of the Financial Grant from the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation.


  • carbon cycle
  • cryospheric science
  • paleoclimate


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