Ecosystem carbon response of an Arctic peatland to simulated permafrost thaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Permafrost peatlands are biogeochemical hot spots in the Arctic as they store vast amounts of carbon. Permafrost thaw could release part of these long-term immobile carbon stocks as the greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and methane (CH 4 ) to the atmosphere, but how much, at which time-span and as which gaseous carbon species is still highly uncertain. Here we assess the effect of permafrost thaw on GHG dynamics under different moisture and vegetation scenarios in a permafrost peatland. A novel experimental approach using intact plant–soil systems (mesocosms) allowed us to simulate permafrost thaw under near-natural conditions. We monitored GHG flux dynamics via high-resolution flow-through gas measurements, combined with detailed monitoring of soil GHG concentration dynamics, yielding insights into GHG production and consumption potential of individual soil layers. Thawing the upper 10–15 cm of permafrost under dry conditions increased CO 2 emissions to the atmosphere (without vegetation: 0.74 ± 0.49 vs. 0.84 ± 0.60 g CO 2 –C m −2 day −1 ; with vegetation: 1.20 ± 0.50 vs. 1.32 ± 0.60 g CO 2 –C m −2 day −1 , mean ± SD, pre- and post-thaw, respectively). Radiocarbon dating ( 14 C) of respired CO 2 , supported by an independent curve-fitting approach, showed a clear contribution (9%–27%) of old carbon to this enhanced post-thaw CO 2 flux. Elevated concentrations of CO 2 , CH 4 , and dissolved organic carbon at depth indicated not just pulse emissions during the thawing process, but sustained decomposition and GHG production from thawed permafrost. Oxidation of CH 4 in the peat column, however, prevented CH 4 release to the atmosphere. Importantly, we show here that, under dry conditions, peatlands strengthen the permafrost–carbon feedback by adding to the atmospheric CO 2 burden post-thaw. However, as long as the water table remains low, our results reveal a strong CH 4 sink capacity in these types of Arctic ecosystems pre- and post-thaw, with the potential to compensate part of the permafrost CO 2 losses over longer timescales.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of Montreal, Canada
  • University of Eastern Finland
  • University of Jyväskylä
  • Aarhus University
  • University of Göttingen
  • Stockholm University
  • Finnish Meteorological Institute
  • University of Helsinki
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Climate Research

Keywords

  • climate warming, CO, greenhouse gas, mesocosm, methane oxidation, permafrost-carbon-feedback
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019 Jan 25
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes