Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2020, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (1): 1-11.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2020.00001.

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Characteristics of permafrost degradation in Northeast China and its ecological effects: A review

ShanShan Chen,ShuYing Zang(),Li Sun   

  1. Heilongjiang Province Key Laboratory of Geographical Environment Monitoring and Spatial Information Service in Cold Regions, Harbin Normal University, Harbin, Heilongjiang 150025, China
  • Received:2019-06-23 Accepted:2019-10-08 Online:2020-02-29 Published:2020-03-17
  • Contact: ShuYing Zang


Latitudinal permafrost in Northern Northeast (NNE) China is located in the southern margin of the Eurasian continent, and is very sensitive to climatic and environmental change. Numerical simulations indicate that air temperature in the permafrost regions of Northeast China has been on the rise since the 1950s, and will keep rising in the 21st century, leading to extensive degradation of permafrost. Permafrost degradation in NNE China has its own characteristics, such as northward shifts in the shape of a "W" for the permafrost southern boundary (SLP), discontinuous permafrost degradation into island-like frozen soil, and gradually disappearing island permafrost. Permafrost degradation leads to deterioration of the ecological environment in cold regions. As a result, the belt of larch forests dominated by Larix gmelinii has shifted northwards and wetland areas with symbiotic relationships with permafrost have decreased significantly. With rapid retreat and thinning of permafrost and vegetation change, the CO2 and CH4 flux increases with mean air temperature from continuous to sporadic permafrost areas as a result of activity of methanogen enhancement, positively feeding back to climate warming. This paper reviews the features of permafrost degradation, the effects of permafrost degradation on wetland and forest ecosystem structure and function, and greenhouse gas emissions on latitudinal permafrost in NNE China. We also put forward critical questions about the aforementioned effects, including: (1) establish long-term permafrost observation systems to evaluate the distribution of permafrost and SLP change, in order to study the feedback of permafrost to climate change; (2) carry out research about the effects of permafrost degradation on the wetland ecosystem and the response of Xing'an larch to global change, and predict ecosystem dynamics in permafrost degradation based on long-term field observation; (3) focus intensively on the dynamics of greenhouse gas flux in permafrost degradation of Northeast China and the feedback of greenhouse gas emissions to climate change; (4) quantitative studies on the permafrost carbon feedback and vegetation carbon feedback due to permafrost change to climate multi-impact and estimate the balance of C in permafrost regions in the future.

Key words: climate warming, permafrost degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem impact

Table 1

Basic feature of permafrost in Northeast China"

Zone MAAT (°C) MAGT (°C) Continuity Thickness (m) Area (×104 km2)
Discontinuous <-5 -4 to 0 70%-80% 50-100 6.16
Island -5 to -3 -2 to 0 30%-70% 20-50 6.6
Sporadic -3 to 0 -1 to 0 5%-30% 5-20 26

Figure 1

Distribution of permafrost in Northeast China"

Table 2

CO2 , CH4 and N2O flux in frozen soils of wetlands and peatlands across Northeast China"

Location Frozen soil type Ecosystem Measuring method Period CH4 flux CO2 flux N2O flux Reference
52°56'N Continuous permafrost Peatland Eddy covariance May to October -3.9 to 40.2 mg/(m2·d) NA NA Yu et al., 2017
51°08'N Discontinuous permafrost Wetland Static chamber

May to October

(2011, 2012)

0.14 mg/(m2·h) 403.47 mg/(m2·h) NA Liu et al., 2015
52°56'N Continuous permafrost Peatland Static chamber November 2010 to April 2011 1.32 mg/(m2 h) 159.83 mg/(m2·h) 72.14 μg/(m2·h) Wang et al., 2013
52°94'N Continuous permafrost Peatland Static chamber June to September 0.21-1.02 mg/(m2·h) NA -21.9 to 25.6 μg/(m2 h) Miao et al., 2011, 2012
52°57'N Continuous permafrost Peatland Static chamber One year 1.51 g/(m2·a) NA NA Miao et al., 2016
52°94'N Continuous permafrost Peatland Static chamber May to October NA NA 1.87-2.66 μg/(m2·h) Cui et al., 2018
48°00'N Sporadic permafrost Peatland Static chamber June to October 1.88 mg/(m2·h) 487.89 mg/(m2·h) 0.004 mg/(m2·h) Mu et al., 2009
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