A catchment-scale carbon and greenhouse gas budget of a subartic landscape

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Abstract

This is the first attempt to budget average current annual carbon (C) and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) exchanges and transfers in a subarctic landscape, the Lake Torneträsk catchment in northern Sweden. This is a heterogeneous area consisting of almost 4000 km2 of mixed heath, birch and pine forest, and mires, lakes and alpine ecosystems. The magnitudes of atmospheric exchange of carbon in the form of the GHGs, CO2 and CH4 in these various ecosystems differ significantly, ranging from little or no flux in barren ecosystems over a small CO2 sink function and low rates of CH4 exchange in the heaths to significant CO2 uptake in the forests and also large emissions of CH4 from the mires and small lakes. The overall catchment budget, given the size distribution of the individual ecosystem types and a first approximation of run-off as dissolved organic carbon, reveals a landscape currently with a significant sink capacity for atmospheric CO2. This sink capacity is, however, extremely sensitive to environmental changes, particularly those that affect the birch forest ecosystem. Climatic drying or wetting and episodic events such as insect outbreaks may cause significant changes in the sink function. Changes in the sources of CH4 through increased permafrost melting may also easily change the sign of the current radiative forcing, due to the stronger impact per gram of CH4 relative to CO2. Hence, to access impacts on climate, the atmospheric C balance alone has to be weighed in a radiative forcing perspective. When considering the emissions of CH4 from the mires and lakes as CO2 equivalents, the Torneträsk catchment is currently a smaller sink of radiative forcing, but it can still be estimated as representing the equivalent of approximately 14 000 average Swedish inhabitants' emissions of CO2. This can be compared with the carbon emissions of less than 200 people who live permanently in the catchment, although this comparison disregards substantial emissions from the non-Swedish tourism and transportation activities.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology
  • Physical Geography

Keywords

  • carbon budgets, greenhouse gas emissions, catchment studies, carbon dioxide, methane
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1643-1656
JournalRoyal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions A. Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume365
Issue number1856
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes