News from the Permafrost Research Section


16.11.2022 | Permafrost contains more nitrogen than previously assumed

In a new study in Nature Communications lead by Dr Jens Strauss an international team is determining the size of the climate-relevant nitrogen reservoir in particularly ice-rich permafrost, called Yedoma permafrost. According to these new results, the Yedoma region contains a total of 41.2 gigatonnes of nitrogen. This means that the reservoir is significantly larger than previous estimates suggested. Of the 41.2 gigatonnes, about 90 per cent are currently frozen and not bioavailable. Nevertheless, this will change in the course of climate change, because if humanity continues to emit high levels of greenhouse gases, between 4 and a maximum of 16 gigatonnes of nitrogen could thaw in the Yedoma by the year 2100. What consequences this high amount would have for the climate depends decisively on the microorganisms in the soil. The nitrogen that would then be bioavailable could boost plant growth, because plants need nitrogen as a nutrient. If the plants are able to use the nitrogen, they could then bind CO2 from the atmosphere, so the effect on the climate would be positive for a certain period. However, microbial degradation could also release large amounts of N2O into the atmosphere. This nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2, so it has a significant impact on the climate.


Jens Strauss, Christina Biasi, Tina Sanders, Benjamin W. Abbott, Thomas Schneider von Deimling, Carolina Voigt, Matthias Winkel, Maija E. Marushchak, Dan Kou, Matthias Fuchs, Marcus A. Horn, Loeka L. Jongejans, Susanne Liebner, Jan Nitzbon, Lutz Schirrmeister, Katey Walter Anthony, Yuanhe Yang, Sebastian Zubrzycki, Sebastian Laboor, Claire Treat and Guido Grosse: A globally relevant stock of soil nitrogen in the Yedoma permafrost domain. Nature Communications (2022). DOI:

AWI press release


27.10.2022 | Importance of long data series for reliable statements

Our collaborative team between AWI, GFZ and University of Hamburg analysed almost twenty-years of methane fluxes and climate data from the permafrost observatory on Samoylov (Siberia). The analysis showed that the summertime release of methane has increased by almost two percent per year since 2004. The cause, however, is not a more massive thawing of permafrost, but earlier onset and increased plant growth due to increased air temperature. The study appeared on October 27 in the journal Nature Climate Change.


Rößger et al. Seasonal increase of methane emissions linked to warming in Siberian tundra. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2022). doi: 10.1038/s41558-022-01512-4


19.10.2022 | Common Grounds Installation Project

Common Grounds is a collaborative project that seeks ways to communicate climate research through art. The installation by Kerstin Ergenzinger and Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari of the Sono-Choreographic Collective creates an artistic sound space that acoustically reproduces a dataset of 20 years of permafrost temperatures and accompanying climate measurements on Spitsbergen, Norway. The project was developed in collaboration with the Permafrost Research Group at AWI Potsdam under the direction of Julia Boike.

Project website

Project description



18.10.2022 | Greenhouse gas emissions from the "Land of Permafrost".

In “Permafrost and Climate Change: Carbon Cycle Feedbacks From the Warming Arctic”, The Permafrost Carbon Network (PCN) compiled a new permafrost carbon synthesis paper showing 9 possible future worlds of Arctic methane and carbon dioxide emissions. We found that this accelerating feedback to climate change depends on what humans do and the response of Arctic ecosystems to warming. Read more here...


Edward A.G. Schuur, Benjamin W. Abbott, Roisin Commane, Jessica Ernakovich, Eugenie Euskirchen, Gustaf Hugelius, Guido Grosse, Miriam Jones, Charlie Koven, Victor Leshyk, David Lawrence, Michael M. Loranty, Marguerite Mauritz, David Olefeldt, Susan Natali, Heidi Rodenhizer, Verity Salmon, Christina Schädel, Jens Strauss, Claire Treat, and Merritt Turetsky: Permafrost and Climate Change: Carbon Cycle Feedbacks From the Warming Arctic, Annual Review of Environment and Resources (2022). DOI:

AWI press release (only in German)


30.06.2022 | Research Topic: Yedoma Permafrost Landscapes as Past Archives, Present and Future Change Areas

Led by Dr. Lutz Schirrmeister the Yedoma Research Topic was published by Frontiers in Earth Science and is available as an e-book and PDF file.

Papers written in this Yedoma Research Topic represent a broad view with local to Arctic-wide scope on the current state of knowledge in permafrost research with respect to unique Yedoma domain landscapes in the past, present, and future.

Schirrmeister, L., Fedorov, A. N., Froese, D., Iwahana, G.,
Van Huissteden, K., Veremeeva, A., eds. (2022). Yedoma Permafrost Landscapes as Past Archives, Present and Future Change Areas. Lausanne: Frontiers Media SA.
doi: 10.3389/978-2-88976-466-2


31.08.2021 | New Data Dashboard for long-term monitoring of the Lena River biogeochemistry at Research Station Samoylov Island

Led by a team from the AWI Potsdam, the biogeochemistry of the Lena River is being measured year-round at a high frequency. This monitoring began in spring 2018 and takes place at the Research Station Samoylov Island in cooperation with the research station staff and our Russian partners: the Otto Schmidt Laboratory (OSL) and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St. Petersburg, the Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics (IPGG) in Novosibirsk and the Melnikov Permafrost Institute (MPI) in Yakutsk.

Parameters are measured at a number of laboratories internationally. These can now be explored and downloaded online in a new interactive data dashboard.

Click here to enter the Lena Monitoring Dashboard

Additional information on the sampling dates, analyzed parameters, impressions of the field work and background information can be found on this new webpage. Currently, data for the first year is available online, with more data coming soon. Together with our partners, our goal is to continue this monitoring program as a witness to the current rapid changes in the Lena River watershed.

30.08.2021 | Jan Nitzbon awarded the highly prestigious Wladimir Köppen Prize

Dr. Jan Nitzbon, scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) was awarded the 2020 Wladimir Köppen Prize for his doctoral thesis, which represents a valuable contribution toward refining simulations of permafrost development: in it, he demonstrates the importance of small-scale landscape characteristics, since they influence the amount of greenhouse gases released as a result of thawing. In the future, his findings could help provide a more realistic picture of permafrost thawing.

AWI press release

original press release

12.08.2021 | Kick-Off Workshop UndercoverEisAgenten

On August 12, the cooperation partners of DLR Jena, HeiGIT and AWI met at the Telegrafenberg in Potsdam for the kick-off of the citizen science project UndercoverEisAgenten, which was launched in July. Together with invited experts, they discussed incentives and motivators for citizen scientists, research ethics, technical challenges in using drones (UAV) for data acquisition, and the harnessing of artificial intelligence in the analysis of satellite data. The knowledge exchange highly contributes to the planning of school and Arctic community participation. 

UndercoverEisAgenten is one of 15 projects funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the Citizen Research funding area.

23.07.2021 | Two AWI-ESA co-funded Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Research PostDoc Fellowship projects started

With Alexandra Runge and Bennet Juhls, two applications from the Permafrost section at AWI were selected for 2-year PostDoc Fellowships within the ESA Climate Change Initiative. Both projects aim to combine multiple essential climate variables from the CCI datasets to identify climate change related impacts in Arctic Permafrost-affected regions.

The project ”Permafrost Vulnerability from multiple Essential Climate Variables (PVE)” led by Alexandra Runge, aims to assess permafrost vulnerability to thaw from spatiotemporal variability and trends from multiple Essential Climate Variables, such as land surface temperature, soil moisture, snow cover, land cover, albedo, and fire, at the pan-Arctic scale. An integral part of the project is to develop a permafrost vulnerability framework considering the ECVs and addressing the surface energy budget affecting the thermal state of permafrost. Spatiotemporal variability assessments will indicate spatial patterns and temporal trends of the individual ECVs and their combined impact on the state of the permafrost. This project will identify permafrost areas with high vulnerability to thaw in the near future.   The project “Organic Matter Runoff and its Fate in a Warming Arctic (ArcticOM)” led by Bennet Juhls, aims to quantify pan-Arctic fluxes of organic carbon from land to sea. The CCI Ocean Colour dataset that covers >20 years will be used to identify potential trends that might be related to the strong warming of the Arctic. As a second objective, long-term datasets such as the permafrost temperature and the depth of the active layer from the Permafrost CCI will be used to address terrestrial drivers that trigger interannual and long-term changes in the transport of organic carbon to the Arctic Ocean. Overall, this project will provide new insights into trends of organic carbon mobilization from thawing permafrost, which is important to understand its potential impact on the global carbon cycle.

18.06.2021 | A permafrost archive of the last 52 000 years in the eastern Lena Delta

A Russian-German expedition worked on Sobo-Sise Island in the eastern Lena Delta in 2018 (see video below), continuously sampling a Yedoma cliff up to 28 m high by rope. Samples from the frozen deposits document permafrost formation and its occasional degradation for about 52 000 years.

In a recent study, micro- and macrofossils preserved in the Yedoma Ice Complex of Sobo-Sise were examined to reconstruct palaeoenvironmental conditions of the last ice age. Fossil pollen reflect tundra-steppe vegetation that maintained the late Pleistocene Mammoth fauna. Part of it was the woolly rhinoceros, which has now been identified for the first time in the Lena Delta on the basis of a bone find. Fossil head capsules of chironomid larvae were used for reconstructions of the mean July temperature. Warmer summers than today were reconstructed for several periods between 51 000 and 41 000 years ago. The study extends earlier Yedoma research on the palaeoecology of eastern Siberia.

Wetterich S, Rudaya N, Nazarova L, Syrykh L, Pavlova M, Palagushkina O, Kizyakov A, Wolter J,  Kuznetsova TV, Aksenov A, Stoof-Leichsenring K, Schirrmeister L, Fritz M (2021). Paleo-ecology of the Yedoma Ice Complex on Sobo-Sise Island (Eastern Lena Delta). Frontiers in Earth Science 9: 681511,

31.05.2021 | paper on modelling permafrost-affeced infrastructure failure

In our new study we use the Cryogrid model for simulating the interaction between a gravel road and its permafrost environment. Our study underlines the importance to account for the interaction of infrastructure with the frozen ground it is built on. This interaction leads to an earlier degradation of permafrost as compared to a situation where the tundra is unaffected by infrastructure.

We further show that infrastructure sites built on cold and continuous permafrost such as the Dalton Highway (Alaska, see Figure) can severely suffer from permafrost degradation under climate change not only in the far future but already in the coming decade.


Schneider von Deimling, T., Lee, H., Ingeman-Nielsen, T., Westermann, S., Romanovsky, V., Lamoureux, S., Walker, D. A., Chadburn, S., Trochim, E., Cai, L., Nitzbon, J., Jacobi, S., and Langer, M.: Consequences of permafrost degradation for Arctic infrastructure – bridging the model gap between regional and engineering scales, The Cryosphere, 15, 2451–2471,, 2021.

Video supplement:
Model code at:

26.04.2021 | Paper on curious winter CO2 emission and uptake events at a high-Arctic research site

Continuously measuring the CO2 exchange between soil and atmosphere at Bayelva, Svalbard, we took note of time periods with curiously high CO2 exchange during winter. These CO2 flux events were associated with high wind speeds and had a marked effect on the net exchange of CO2 at the study site over an entire year. While we found that the apparent CO2 uptake during winter is likely related to instrumental limitations, strong CO2 emission rather relates to physical processes such as the advection of CO2 to the study site from remote regions.

Strong changes in weather conditions, accompanied by high wind speeds, are expected to become more frequent in the North Atlantic sector of the Arctic. Further investigation will therefore be crucial to pinpoint the factors causing the high CO2 flux events and to avoid a bias in larger-scale carbon budget calculations which might ultimately propagate into climate predictions.

Jentzsch, K., Schulz, A., Pirk, N., Foken, T., Crewell, S., & Boike, J. (2021). High levels of CO2 exchange during synoptic-scale events introduce large uncertainty into the Arctic carbon budget. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2020GL092256.


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