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Ecosystem carbon response of an Arctic peatland to simulated permafrost thaw

Author:
Voigt, Carolina, Marushchak, Maija E., Mastepanov, Mikhail, Lamprecht, Richard E., Christensen, Torben R., Dorodnikov, Maxim, Jackowicz‐Korczyński, Marcin, Lindgren, Amelie, Lohila, Annalea, Nykänen, Hannu, Oinonen, Markku, Oksanen, Timo, Palonen, Vesa, Treat, Claire C., Martikainen, Pertti J., Biasi, Christina
Source:
Global change biology 2019 v.25 no.5 pp. 1746-1764
ISSN:
1354-1013
Subject:
carbon dioxide, carbon sinks, dissolved organic carbon, ecosystems, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, methane, monitoring, oxidation, peat, peatlands, permafrost, radiocarbon dating, radionuclides, thawing, vegetation, water table, Arctic region
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 (CO₂) and methane (CH₄) 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 CO₂ emissions to the atmosphere (without vegetation: 0.74 ± 0.49 vs. 0.84 ± 0.60 g CO₂–C m⁻² day⁻¹; with vegetation: 1.20 ± 0.50 vs. 1.32 ± 0.60 g CO₂–C m⁻² day⁻¹, mean ± SD, pre‐ and post‐thaw, respectively). Radiocarbon dating (¹⁴C) of respired CO₂, supported by an independent curve‐fitting approach, showed a clear contribution (9%–27%) of old carbon to this enhanced post‐thaw CO₂ flux. Elevated concentrations of CO₂, CH₄, 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 CH₄ in the peat column, however, prevented CH₄ release to the atmosphere. Importantly, we show here that, under dry conditions, peatlands strengthen the permafrost–carbon feedback by adding to the atmospheric CO₂ burden post‐thaw. However, as long as the water table remains low, our results reveal a strong CH₄ sink capacity in these types of Arctic ecosystems pre‐ and post‐thaw, with the potential to compensate part of the permafrost CO₂ losses over longer timescales.
Agid:
6373620