Biogenic volatile release from permafrost thaw is determined by the soil microbial sink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Warming in the Arctic accelerates thawing of permafrost-affected soils, which leads to a release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We do not know whether permafrost thaw also releases non-methane volatile organic compounds that can contribute to both negative and positive radiative forcing on climate. Here we show using proton transfer reaction–time of flight–mass spectrometry that substantial amounts of ethanol and methanol and in total 316 organic ions were released from Greenlandic permafrost soils upon thaw in laboratory incubations. We demonstrate that the majority of this release is taken up in the active layer above. In an experiment using 14C-labeled ethanol and methanol, we demonstrate that these compounds are consumed by microorganisms. Our findings highlight that the thawing permafrost soils are not only a considerable source of volatile organic compounds but also that the active layer regulates their release into the atmosphere.


  • Magnus Kramshöj
  • Christian N. Albers
  • Thomas Holst
  • Rupert Holzinger
  • Bo Elberling
  • Riikka Rinnan
External organisations
  • University of Copenhagen
  • Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Utrecht University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Climate Research
Original languageEnglish
Article number3412
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Aug 24
Publication categoryResearch