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.
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Understanding methane (CH4) emission from thermokarst lakes is crucial for predicting the impacts of abrupt thaw on the permafrost carbon-climate feedback. However, observational evidence, especially from high-altitude permafrost regions, is still scarce. Here, by combining field surveys, radio- and stable-carbon isotopic analyses, and metagenomic sequencing, we present multiple characteristics of CH4emissions from 120 thermokarst lakes in 30 clusters along a 1100 km transect on the Tibetan Plateau. We find that thermokarst lakes have high CH4emissions during the ice-free period (13.4 ± 1.5 mmol m−2d−1; mean ± standard error) across this alpine permafrost region. Ebullition constitutes 84% of CH4emissions, which are fueled primarily by young carbon decomposition through the hydrogenotrophic pathway. The relative abundances of methanogenic genes correspond to the observed CH4fluxes. Overall, multiple parameters obtained in this study provide benchmarks for better predicting the strength of permafrost carbon-climate feedback in high-altitude permafrost regions.more » « less
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