Vast portions of Arctic and sub-Arctic Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon Territory are covered by ice-rich silty to sandy deposits that are containing large ice wedges, resulting from syngenetic sedimentation and freezing. Accompanied by wedge-ice growth in polygonal landscapes, the sedimentation process was driven by cold continental climatic and environmental conditions in unglaciated regions during the late Pleistocene, inducing the accumulation of the unique Yedoma deposits up to >50 meters thick.
Because of fast incorporation of organic material into syngenetic permafrost during its formation, Yedoma deposits include well-preserved organic matter. Ice-rich deposits like Yedoma are especially prone to degradation triggered by climate changes or human activity. When Yedoma deposits degrade, large amounts of sequestered organic carbon as well as other nutrients are released and become part of active biogeochemical cycling. This could be of global significance for future climate warming as increased permafrost thaw is likely to lead to a positive feedback through enhanced greenhouse gas fluxes. Therefore, a detailed assessment of the current Yedoma deposit coverage and its volume is of importance to estimate its potential response to future climate changes. We synthesized the map of the coverage (see figure) and thickness estimation, which will provide critical data needed for further research. In particular, this preliminary Yedoma map is a great step forward to understand the spatial heterogeneity of Yedoma deposits and its regional coverage. There will be further applications in the context of reconstructing paleo-environmental dynamics and past ecosystems like the mammoth-steppe-tundra, or ground ice distribution including future thermokarst vulnerability. Moreover, the map will be a crucial improvement of the data basis needed to refine the present-day Yedoma permafrost organic carbon inventory, which is assumed to be between 83±12 (Strauss et al., 2013) and 129±30 (Walter Anthony et al., 2014) gigatonnes (Gt) of organic carbon in perennially-frozen archives.
Hence, here we synthesize data on the circum-Arctic and sub-Arctic distribution and thickness of Yedoma for compiling a preliminary circum-polar Yedoma map (see figure). For compiling this map, we used (1) maps of the previous Yedoma coverage estimates, (2) included the digitized areas from Grosse et al. (2013) as well as extracted areas of potential Yedoma distribution from additional surface geological and Quaternary geological maps (1.: 1:500,000: Q-51-V,G; P-51-A,B; P-52-A,B; Q-52-V,G; P-52-V,G; Q-51-A,B; R-51-V,G; R-52-V,G; R-52-A,B; 2.: 1:1,000,000: P-50-51; P-52-53; P-58-59; Q-42-43; Q-44-45; Q-50-51; Q-52-53; Q-54-55; Q-56-57; Q-58-59; Q-60; R-(40)-42; R-43-(45); R-(45)-47; R-48-(50); R-51; R-53-(55); R-(55)-57; R-58-(60); S-44-46; S-47-49; S-50-52; S-53-55; 3.: 1:2,500,000: Quaternary map of the territory of Russian Federation, 4.: Alaska Permafrost Map). The digitalization was done using GIS techniques (ArcGIS) and vectorization of raster Images (Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator). Data on Yedoma thickness are obtained from boreholes and exposures reported in the scientific literature. The map and database are still preliminary and will have to undergo a technical and scientific vetting and review process. In their current form, we included a range of attributes for Yedoma area polygons based on lithological and stratigraphical information from the original source maps as well as a confidence level for our classification of an area as Yedoma (3 stages: confirmed, likely, or uncertain). In its current version, our database includes more than 365 boreholes and exposures and more than 2000 digitized Yedoma areas. We expect that the database will continue to grow. In this preliminary stage, we estimate the Northern Hemisphere Yedoma deposit area to cover approximately 625,000 km². We estimate that 53% of the total Yedoma area today is located in the tundra zone, 47% in the taiga zone. Separated from west to east, 29% of the Yedoma area is found in North America and 71 % in North Asia. The latter include 9% in West Siberia, 11% in Central Siberia, 44% in East Siberia and 7% in Far East Russia. Adding the recent maximum Yedoma region (including all Yedoma uplands, thermokarst lakes and basins, and river valleys) of 1.4 million km² (see figure and Strauss et al. (2013)) and postulating that Yedoma occupied up to 80% of the adjacent formerly exposed and now flooded Beringia shelves (1.9 million km², down to 125 m below modern sea level, between 105°E – 128°W and >68°N), we assume that the Last Glacial Maximum Yedoma region likely covered more than 3 million km² of Beringia.
This project is part of the Action Group “The Yedoma Region: A Synthesis of Circum-Arctic Distribution and Thickness” (funded by the International Permafrost Association (IPA) to J. Strauss) and is embedded into the Permafrost Carbon Network (working group Yedoma Carbon Stocks). We acknowledge the support by the European Research Council (Starting Grant #338335), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant 01DM12011 and “CarboPerm” (03G0836A)), the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association (#ERC-0013) and the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA, project UFOPLAN FKZ 3712 41 106).
Grosse, G., Robinson, J.E., Bryant, R., Taylor, M.D., Harper, W., DeMasi, A., Kyker-Snowman, E., Veremeeva, A., Schirrmeister, L. and Harden, J., 2013. Distribution of late Pleistocene ice-rich syngenetic permafrost of the Yedoma Suite in east and central Siberia, Russia. US Geological Survey Open File Report, 1078. U.S. Geological Survey Reston, Virginia, 37 pp.
Strauss, J., Schirrmeister, L., Grosse, G., Wetterich, S., Ulrich, M., Herzschuh, U. and Hubberten, H.-W., 2013. The Deep Permafrost Carbon Pool of the Yedoma Region in Siberia and Alaska. Geophysical Research Letters, 40: 6165–6170, doi:10.1002/2013GL058088.
Walter Anthony, K.M., Zimov, S.A., Grosse, G., Jones, M.C., Anthony, P.M., Chapin III, F.S., Finlay, J.C., Mack, M.C., Davydov, S., Frenzel, P. and Frolking, S., 2014. A shift of thermokarst lakes from carbon sources to sinks during the Holocene epoch. Nature, 511: 452–456, doi:10.1038/nature13560.
EPIC Alfred Wegener Institut