Effect of permafrost thaw on methane and carbon dioxide exchange in two western Alaska peatlands
Johnston, Carmel Eliise
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Methane (CH 4) causes about 20% of greenhouse gas radiative forcing despite its relatively short lifetime (~10 y) and low concentration (1800 ppb) in the atmosphere. Wetlands are the largest natural source of CH 4, amounting to 22% of CH 4 production globally, with emission of CH 4-C by both diffusion and ebullition pathways. Permafrost peatlands store about 10% of permafrost C and 5% of global belowground C; hence CH 4- C emission with peatland permafrost thaw is of concern. We quantified temporal and spatial aspects of CH 4 and CO 2 emissions from northern peatlands using two approaches: (1) a ~1000 y thaw chronosequence in remote western Alaska (Innoko Flats Wildlife Refuge; May-September, 2011), and (2) lateral transects in intermediate age (~20-500 y) collapse-scar bog features at a well-instrumented site near Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska Peatland Experiment (APEX)/Bonanza Creek Long Term Experimental Research site; June-September, 2012). At Innoko Flats, peak CH 4 production was observed in features aged 30-590 y since thaw, which had warmer soils than younger sites and shallower water tables than older sites. Average surface flux at these 30-590 y sites (+2.52 ± 0.98 mg CH 4-C m -2 hr -1) was greater than estimated ebullition flux (0.13 ± 0.05 mg CH 4-C m -2 hr -1) based on an observed rate of 0.78 ± 0.33 mL m -2 hr -1. Net ecosystem exchange of CO 2-C (NEE) did not differ among chronosequence features, and offset CH 4-C emissions by a factor of 2 to 400 when considered as 100-y global warming potential. At APEX, bogs reflecting <100 y since most recent thaw showed high variability in CH 4 exchange, but rates were generally consistent with levels at the Innoko 30-590 y sites (mean of 5.42 ± 1.16 mg CH 4-C m -2 hr -1). APEX bogs showed greater balance between CH 4-C efflux and CO 2-C influx, with CH 4-C fluxes offsetting 80-140% of NEE during the growing season when considered as 100-y global warming potential. We argue that CH 4 contributes most significantly to post-thaw C loss over timescales of decades to centuries in these northern peatlands.