Methane concentrations and oxidation in nearshore waters of the Lena River Delta
Thursday, 18 December 2014
The Arctic is warming dramatically, with potentially catastrophic impacts on climate change through rapid mobilization of labile carbon reservoirs sequestered presently in permafrost. Increasingly, Arctic feedbacks are recognized as key contributors to climate change, including cycles associated with the powerful greenhouse gas methane, whose atmospheric concentration has more than doubled since the pre-industrial epoch. Sustained methane release to the atmosphere from thawing Arctic permafrost and delivery to the coastal ocean through groundwater or riverine discharge or expulsion from the seabed is a positive and likely highly significant feedback to climate warming. Microbially-mediated methane oxidation provides a key sink and effective biofilter that can limit methane fluxes from coastal environments to the atmosphere. We examined methane dynamics on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by determining concentrations and oxidation rates at a series of stations near the Lena River Delta and moving offshore. Methane concentrations and oxidation rates were highly elevated in and near the river mouth compared to offshore waters, except when the offshore waters were impacted by seabed methane seepage. The regulation of methane oxidation in Arctic waters appears two-fold: first, rates are strongly related to methane availability and second, in the presence of methane, nutrient availability strongly regulates methane consumption. Along the Lena river delta, elevated concentrations of both nutrients and methane create ideal conditions to support high rates of pelagic methanotrophy. Offshore, where nutrient concentrations are lower and more limiting, methane oxidation rates are considerably lower. These data suggest that, at present, nearshore waters are fairly efficient methane sinks while in offshore waters, pelagic methanotrophy is inefficient, allowing methane to escape to the atmosphere.