Characterizing dissolved organic carbon concentrations and export in a boreal forest-peatland landscape under the influence of rapidly degrading discontinuous permafrost
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Our current understanding of peatland energy, water and carbon (C) cycles implies that northern peatlands are vulnerable to projected climate change, and that the perturbation of these cycles might cause a strong positive or negative net feedback to the climate system. About one third of Canada’s northern peatlands contain contain perennialy frozen ground (permafrost). Boreal forest-peatland ecosystems in the discontinuous permafrost zone (50-90% of frozen ground) are especially vulnerable to rising temperatures as permafrost is ice-rich, relatively warm and thin, and thus susceptible to complete disappearance causing ground surface subsidence and a decline in forest cover in response to water-logging. Several recent studies have substantially improved our understanding of northern peatland’s role in the climate system by quantifying their net ecosystem C balance which includes atmospheric and aqueous C fluxes generally dominated by the export of dissolved organic C (DOC). We characterize seasonal and diurnal variations in DOC export from five catchments (0.02-0.05 km2) at Scotty Creek, a 152 km2-watershed under the influence of rapidly degrading and disappearing discontinuous permafrost near Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, Canada. The five catchments are characterized by different fractions of forested peat plateaus with permafrost (38-73%) and permafrost-free collapse bogs (27-62%). Dissolved organic carbon concentrations at Scotty Creek appear to be higher in catchments where the percentage of peat plateaus is higher compared to bogs, independent of catchment size. Average DOC concentration for catchments with a lower percentage of peat plateaus is lower (~43 mg/l) than for those with a higher percentage of plateaus (~60 mg/l). These preliminary results suggest that lateral C losses from this rapidly changing landscape are at least partly controlled by the peat plateau-bog ratio. Over the year, DOC export from the five catchments is limited to around a week due to the relatively dry conditions at Scotty Creek over the hot summer months: only one of the catchments produces continuous measurable surface runoff. However, as indicated through water level recordings, additional unaccounted DOC export may occur through diffuse subsurface flow.