Topographic Variation and Methane Production in Siberian Arctic Tundra

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
McKenzie Ann Kuhn, Wheaton College, Norton, MA, United States, Jessica Eason, Brown University, Providence, RI, United States, Sam Dunn, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States, Seth Spawn, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN, United States and John D Schade, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, United States
Understanding the fate of soil carbon when permafrost soils begin to thaw is critical for predicting the impact of permafrost thaw on global climate change. Microbial metabolism of soil carbon can produce carbon dioxide or methane, depending on soil conditions, and which pathway dominates has great significance for the strength of climate feedbacks since methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In Arctic ecosystems, methane production from upland environments is not well understood and generally assumed to be low because conditions there are generally not favorable for methanogenesis. Small changes in topography, however, can lead to great heterogeneity in soil conditions at small scales that may lead to higher methane flux than generally recognized. In this study, we investigated patterns in methane, carbon dioxide, and oxygen concentrations in in surface waters of 15 small ponds in the Kolyma River watershed in Northeast Siberia. The ponds were distributed across a topographic gradient from upland tundra high in the landscape to low-lying ponds in the floodplain of the Kolyma River. In addition, we used chambers to measured methane fluxes from a variety of topographic depressions that ranged from pools to moss-dominated saturated soils lacking surface water, to dry soils dominated by sedges. Dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations in ponds showed no trend down the topographic gradient while methane concentrations decreased downslope. The decrease in methane production may be the result of a switch from green moss to brown moss, which may act as a host for methanotrophic bacteria. Ponds with green moss had significantly higher concentrations of methane than the ponds with brown moss. In addition, we found significantly higher methane fluxes from pools and saturated soils then from drier soils, which showed very low fluxes. These results suggest that upland tundra may be a significant source of methane, and that methane fluxes are driven by a combination of soil conditions and the composition of vegetation within topographic depressions. Clearly, better understanding of small-scale patterns in gas flux and the conditions which effect it is critical to our ability to model feedbacks that may result from anthropogenic climate change.