Thermokarst lakes accelerate deep permafrost thaw and the mobilization of previously frozen soil organic carbon. This leads to microbial decomposition and large releases of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) that enhance climate warming. However, the time scale of permafrost-carbon emissions following thaw is not well known but is important for understanding how abrupt permafrost thaw impacts climate feedback. We combined field measurements and radiocarbon dating of CH4ebullition with (a) an assessment of lake area changes delineated from high-resolution (1–2.5 m) optical imagery and (b) geophysical measurements of thaw bulbs (taliks) to determine the spatiotemporal dynamics of hotspot-seep CH4ebullition in interior Alaska thermokarst lakes. Hotspot seeps are characterized as point-sources of high ebullition that release14C-depleted CH4from deep (up to tens of meters) within lake thaw bulbs year-round. Thermokarst lakes, initiated by a variety of factors, doubled in number and increased 37.5% in area from 1949 to 2009 as climate warmed. Approximately 80% of contemporary CH4hotspot seeps were associated with this recent thermokarst activity, occurring where 60 years of abrupt thaw took place as a result of new and expanded lake areas. Hotspot occurrence diminished with distance from thermokarst lake margins. We attribute older14C ages of CH4released from hotspot seeps in older, expanding thermokarst lakes (14CCH420 079 ± 1227 years BP, mean ± standard error (s.e.m.) years) to deeper taliks (thaw bulbs) compared to younger14CCH4in new lakes (14CCH48526 ± 741 years BP) with shallower taliks. We find that smaller, non-hotspot ebullition seeps have younger14C ages (expanding lakes 7473 ± 1762 years; new lakes 4742 ± 803 years) and that their emissions span a larger historic range. These observations provide a first-order constraint on the magnitude and decadal-scale duration of CH4-hotspot seep emissions following formation of thermokarst lakes as climate warms.
Freshwater ecosystem contributions to the global methane budget remains the most uncertain among natural sources. With warming and accompanying carbon release from thawed permafrost and thermokarst lake expansion, the increase of methane emissions could be large. However, the impact and relative importance of various factors related to warming remain uncertain. Based on diverse lake characteristics incorporated in modeling and observational data, we calibrate and verify a lake biogeochemistry model. The model is then applied to estimate global lake methane emissions and examine the impacts of temperature increase for the first and the last decades of the 21st century under different climate scenarios. We find that current emissions are 24.0 ± 8.4 Tg CH4 yr−1from lakes larger than 0.1 km2, accounting for 11% of the global total natural source as estimated based on atmospheric inversion. Future projections under the RCP8.5 scenario suggest a 58%–86% growth in emissions from lakes. Our model sensitivity analysis indicates that additional carbon substrates from thawing permafrost may enhance methane production under warming in the Arctic. Warming enhanced methane oxidation in lake water can be an effective sink to reduce the net release from global lakes.more » « less
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
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- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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