The Application of Methane Clumped Isotope Measurements to Determine the Source of Large Methane Seeps in Alaskan Lakes

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Peter M Douglas1, Daniel A Stolper1, John M Eiler1, Alex L Sessions1 and Katey M Walter Anthony2, (1)California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, United States, (2)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Water and Environmental Research Center, Fairbanks, AK, United States
Natural methane emissions from the Arctic present an important potential feedback to global warming. Arctic methane emissions may come from either active microbial sources or from deep fossil reservoirs released by the thawing of permafrost and melting of glaciers. It is often difficult to distinguish between and quantify contributions from these methane sources based on stable isotope data. Analyses of methane clumped isotopes (isotopologues with two or more rare isotopes such as 13CH3D) can complement traditional stable isotope-based classifications of methane sources. This is because clumped isotope abundances (for isotopically equilibrated systems) are a function of temperature and can be used to identify pathways of methane generation. Additionally, distinctive effects of mixing on clumped isotope abundances make this analysis valuable for determining the origins of mixed gasses.

We find large variability in clumped isotope compositions of methane from seeps in several lakes, including thermokarst lakes, across Alaska. At Lake Sukok in northern Alaska we observe the emission of dominantly thermogenic methane, with a formation temperature of at least 100° C. At several other lakes we find evidence for mixing between thermogenic methane and biogenic methane that forms in low-temperature isotopic equilibrium. For example, at Eyak Lake in southeastern Alaska, analysis of three methane samples results in a distinctive isotopic mixing line between a high-temperature end-member that formed between 100-170° C, and a biogenic end-member that formed in isotopic equilibrium between 0-20° C. In this respect, biogenic methane in these lakes resembles observations from marine gas seeps, oil degradation, and sub-surface aquifers. Interestingly, at Goldstream Lake in interior Alaska, methane with strongly depleted clumped-isotope abundances, indicative of disequilibrium gas formation, is found, similar to observations from methanogen culture experiments.