Effects of Landscape Position on Carbon Cycling in Siberian Arctic Tundra

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Salvatore Rex Curasi1, Luis R Weber2 and Michael M Loranty1, (1)Colgate University, Geography, Hamilton, NY, United States, (2)University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus, Department of Environmental Sciences, Cidra, PR, United States
High latitude carbon cycling is important because shifts in climatic conditions are thawing permafrost and altering carbon uptake in ways that will impact global climate. Within arctic ecosystems variation in slope and topography lead to flows of water beneath the soil surface that increase ecosystem moisture and nutrient availability. Consequently, such differences in landscape position often alter ecosystem structure, increase vegetation productivity, and more generally alter carbon cycling, relative to adjacent upland areas. Such differences will likely result in altered ecosystem responses to continued climate change. Understanding this variability in ecosystem function will be necessary in order to accurately understand the future of the arctic carbon cycle. The objective of this study is to characterize differences in biological and environmental conditions associated with landscape position in Siberian arctic tundra, and to understand how these differences impact ecosystem carbon cycling.

To quantify the impact of landscape position on tundra ecosystem carbon cycling, we selected pairs of plots in upland and low lying landscape positions with high and low shrub density. We measured CO2 flux, permafrost thaw depth, soil moisture, soil temperature, and meteorological conditions. These variables were compared relative to shrub density and landscape position in order to determine differences in gross primary productivity and ecosystem respiration associated with vegetation type and landscape position. Low-lying wet areas were more productive than adjacent upland areas, irrespective of vegetation type. We also observed shallower permafrost thaw depth, lower soil temperature, greater soil moisture, and higher ecosystem respiration in the low lying plots. The observation of higher ecosystem respiration despite lower permafrost thaw depths and soil temperatures in the low-lying areas highlights the challenges associated with understanding the arctic carbon cycle under changing biological and environmental conditions. Our results could be combined with data on variability in ecosystem type associated with landscape position across the arctic environment to better understand and model spatial variability in ecosystem scale carbon cycle dynamics.