Assessing the net effect of long-term drainage on a permafrost ecosystem through year-round eddy-covariance flux measurements

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Fanny Kittler1, Martin Heimann1, Mathias Goeckede1, Sergei A Zimov2 and Nikita Zimov3, (1)Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany, (2)Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, (3)Northeast Scientific Station, Cherskiy, Russia
Permafrost regions in the Northern high latitudes play a key role in the carbon budget of the earth system because of their massive carbon reservoir and the uncertain feedback processes with future climate change. For an improved understanding of mechanisms and drivers dominating permafrost carbon cycling, more observations in high-latitude regions are needed. Particularly the contribution of wintertime fluxes to the annual carbon budget and the impact of disturbances on biogeochemical and biogeophysical ecosystem properties, and the resulting modification of the carbon cycle, have rarely been studied to date.

In summer of 2013, we established a new eddy-covariance station for continuous, year-round monitoring of carbon fluxes and their environmental drivers near Cherskii in Northeast Siberia (68.75°N, 161.33°E). Parts of the observation area have been disturbed by drainage since 2004, altering the soil water conditions in a way that is expected for degrading ice-rich permafrost under a warming climate. With two eddy-covariance towers running in parallel over the disturbed (drained) area and a reference area nearby, respectively, we can directly infer the disturbance effect on the carbon cycle budgets and the dominating biogeochemical mechanisms.

This study presents findings based on 16 months of continuous eddy-covariance CO2 flux measurements (July 2013 - October 2014) for both observation areas. At both towers, we observed systematic, non-zero flux contributions outside the growing seasons that significantly altered annual CO2 budgets. A direct comparison of fluxes between the two disturbance regimes indicates a net reduction of the sink strength for CO2 in the disturbed area during the growing season, mostly caused by reduced CO2 uptake with low water levels in late summer. Moreover, shifts in soil temperatures and snow cover caused by reduced soil water levels result in lower net CO2 emissions during the winter at the drained area, which is partly compensated by a pronounced emission peak immediately following the spring flood in June. Based on the composition and weighting of environmental factors dominating the fluxes in different seasons, we demonstrate systematic shifts in the carbon cycle mechanisms as a result of 10 years of disturbance in the drained area.