Controls on northern wetland methane emissions: insights from regional synthesis studies and the Alaska Peatland Experiment (APEX)
Abstract:Wetlands are the largest natural source of atmospheric methane. Static chambers have been used to quantify variation in wetland CH4 flux for many decades. Regional to global scale synthesis studies of static chamber measurements show that relationships between temperature, water availability and CH4 emissions depend on wetland type (bog, fen, swamp), region (tropical, temperate, arctic) and disturbance. For example, while water table position and temperature serve as the dominant controls on bog and swamp CH4 flux, vegetation is an important control on emissions from fens. These studies highlight the fact that wetland types have distinct controls on CH4 emissions; however, it is unlikely that modeling of wetland CH4 flux will improve without a better mechanistic understanding of the processes underlying CH4 production, transport, and oxidation.
At the Alaska Peatland Experiment, we are quantifying CH4 emission using static chambers, automated chambers, and towers. Our sites vary in permafrost regime, including groundwater fens without permafrost, forested peat plateaus with intact permafrost, and collapse scar bogs formed through permafrost thaw. Experimental studies that examine plant and microbial responses to altered water table position and soil temperature are complemented by a gradient approach, where we use a space-for-time substitutions to examine the consequences of thaw on time-scales of decades to centuries. Our results thus far have documented the importance of soil rewetting in governing large CH4 fluxes from northern wetland soils. Accounting for CH4, our collapse scar bog significantly contributed to the global warming potential of the landscape. A major objective of our work is to explore the role of permafrost C release in greenhouse gas fluxes from wetland soils, which we are assessing using radiocarbon as a natural tracer. We have shown, for example, that ebullition of CH4 is dominated by recently fixed C, but a significant fraction of CH4 in bubbles is derived from old C released during thaw. The APEX time series datasets are being used in a variety of modeling studies, from small-scale soil pore and microbial controls on gas production and transport to regional scale assessments of how carbon cycle feedbacks to climate vary with wetland type and abundance.