Environmental controls on ecosystem-scale cold-season methane and carbon dioxide fluxes in an Arctic tundra ecosystem

Howard, Dean; Agnan, Yannick; Helmig, Detlev; Yang, Yu; Obrist, Daniel

Understanding the processes that influence and control carbon cycling in Arctic tundra ecosystems is essential for making accurate predictions about what role these ecosystems will play in potential future climate change scenarios. Particularly, air–surface fluxes of methane and carbon dioxide are of interest as recent observations suggest that the vast stores of soil carbon found in the Arctic tundra are becoming more available to release to the atmosphere in the form of these greenhouse gases. Further, harsh wintertime conditions and complex logistics have limited the number of year-round and cold-season studies and hence too our understanding of carbon cycle processes during these periods. We present here a two-year micrometeorological data set of methane and carbon dioxide fluxes, along with supporting soil pore gas profiles, that provide near-continuous data throughout the active summer and cold winter seasons. Net emission of methane and carbon dioxide in one of the study years totalled 3.7 and 89 g C minline-formula−2 ainline-formula−1 respectively, with cold-season methane emission representing 54 % of the annual total. In the other year, net emission totals of methane and carbon dioxide were 4.9 and 485 g C minline-formula−2 ainline-formula−1 respectively, with cold-season methane emission here representing 82 % of the annual total – a larger proportion than has been previously reported in the Arctic tundra. Regression tree analysis suggests that, due to relatively warmer air temperatures and deeper snow depths, deeper soil horizons – where most microbial methanogenic activity takes place – remained warm enough to maintain efficient methane production whilst surface soil temperatures were simultaneously cold enough to limit microbial methanotrophic activity. These results provide valuable insight into how a changing Arctic climate may impact methane emission, and highlight a need to focus on soil temperatures throughout the entire active soil profile, rather than rely on air temperature as a proxy for modelling temperature–methane flux dynamics.

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Howard, Dean / Agnan, Yannick / Helmig, Detlev / et al: Environmental controls on ecosystem-scale cold-season methane and carbon dioxide fluxes in an Arctic tundra ecosystem. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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