Reservoir water level drawdown as a novel, substantial, and manageable control on methane release to the atmosphere

Monday, 15 December 2014
John Harrison1, Bridget Read Deemer2 and Michael Keith Birchfield2, (1)Washington State University, Pullman, WA, United States, (2)Washington State University, School of the Environment, Vancouver, WA, United States
Reservoirs constitute a globally important source of atmospheric methane (CH4). Although it is reasonably well-established that hydrostatic and barometric pressure can influence rates of CH4 release from lake and tidal sediments, the relationship between water-level manipulation and CH4 release from man-made impoundments has not been quantified or characterized. Furthermore, cross-system controls on CH4 production and release to the atmosphere have not been established. We collected CH4 emission (diffusion and ebullition) data for 8 reservoirs in the U.S. Pacific Northwest that are subject to a range of trophic conditions and water level management regimes. Our aim was to: (1) characterize CH4 emissions from these systems, and (2) quantify effects of water level management and eutrophication on CH4 fluxes. Results indicate very high fluxes, in some cases the highest reported reservoir emission rates, and a strong correspondence between lake level reduction and CH4 emissions, including quantitatively important bursts of CH4 bubbling. In one reservoir, drawdown-associated CH4 fluxes accounted for over 25% of annual CH4 emissions in a period of just 16 days (4% of the year). Average CH4 ebullition rates in a reservoir managed for hydropower peaking were nearly three-fold higher than in a paired upstream reservoir managed to maintain a constant water level (528 mg CH4 m-2 d-1 and 187 mg CH4 m-2 d-1 respectively). Highest gas fluxes were observed during the water level drawdown component of the hydropower peaking cycle (14.3 g CH4 m-2 d-1). In addition we observe a strong, positive relationship between eutrophication (as indicated by surface Chl a concentrations) and CH4 production (r2 = 0.88; P<0.001) and between eutrophication and the sensitivity of CH4 emissions to drawdown (r2 = 0.84; P<0.001). This work suggests that manipulation of water levels can significantly affect CH4 emissions from reservoirs to the atmosphere, and that sampling programs that miss drawdown periods may substantially underestimate CH4 fluxes. It also suggests that controlling nutrient loading may reduce greenhouse gas fluxes from surface waters to the atmosphere.