Articles | Volume 14, issue 2
15 Feb 2010
 | 15 Feb 2010

Forest decline caused by high soil water conditions in a permafrost region

H. Iwasaki, H. Saito, K. Kuwao, T. C. Maximov, and S. Hasegawa

Abstract. In the permafrost region near Yakutsk, eastern Siberia, Russia, annual precipitation (June–May) in 2005–2006 and 2006–2007 exceeded the 26-year (1982–2008) mean of 222±68 mm by 185 mm and 128 mm, respectively, whereas in 2007–2008 the excedent was only 48 mm, well within the range of variability. Yellowing and browning of larch (Larix cajanderi Mayr.) trees occurred in an undisturbed forest near Yakutsk in the 2007 summer growing season. Soil water content at a depth of 0.20 m was measured along a roughly 400 m long line transect running through areas of yellowing and browning larch trees (YBL) and of normal larch trees (NL). In the two years of supranormal precipitation, soil water content was very high compared to values recorded for the same area in previous studies. For both wet years, the mean degree of saturation (s) was significantly greater in YBL than NL areas, whereas the converse was the case for the gas diffusivity in soil. This implies that rather than mitigating water stress suffered during normal precipitation years, elevated soil water conditions adversely affected the growth of larch trees. Eastern Siberia's taiga forest extends widely into the permafrost region. Was such supranormal annual precipitation to extend for more than two years, as might be expected under impending global climate changes, forest recovery may not be expected and emission of greenhouse gas might continue in future.