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  1. Abstract

    The ongoing global temperature rise enhances permafrost thaw in the Arctic, allowing Pleistocene‐aged frozen soil organic matter to become available for microbial degradation and production of greenhouse gases, particularly methane. Here, we examined the extent and mechanism of anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) in the sediments of four interior Alaska thermokarst lakes, which formed and continue to expand as a result of ice‐rich permafrost thaw. In cores of surface (~ 1 m) lake sediments we quantified methane production (methanogenesis) and AOM rates using anaerobic incubation experiments in low (4°C) and high (16°C) temperatures. Methanogenesis rates were measured by the accumulation of methane over ~ 90 d, whereas AOM rates were measured by adding labeled‐13CH4and measuring the produced dissolved inorganic13C. Our results demonstrate that while methanogenesis was vigorous in these anoxic sediments, AOM was lower by two orders of magnitude. In almost all sediment depths and temperatures, AOM rates remained less than 2% of the methanogenesis rates. Experimental evidence indicates that the AOM is strongly related to methanogens, as the addition of a methanogens' inhibitor prevented AOM. Variety of electron acceptor additions did not stimulate AOM, and methanotrophs were scarcely detected. These observations suggest that the AOM signals in the incubation experiments might be a result of enzymatic reversibility (“back‐flux”) during CH4production, rather than thermodynamically favorable AOM. Regardless of the mechanism, the quantitative results show that near surface (< 1‐m) thermokarst sediments in interior Alaska have little to no buffer mechanisms capable of attenuating methane production in a warming climate.

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  2. Abstract

    The Arctic is rapidly warming, and tundra vegetation community composition is changing from small, prostrate shrubs to taller, erect shrubs in some locations. Across much of the Arctic, the sensitivity of shrub secondary growth, as measured by growth ring width, to climate has changed with increased warming, but it is not fully understood how shrub age contributes to shifts in climate sensitivity.

    We studied Siberian alder,Alnus viridisssp.fruticosa, a large nitrogen‐fixing shrub that has responded to climate warming with northward range expansion over the last 50 years. We used serial sectioning of 26 individual shrubs and 94 cross‐sections to generate a 98‐year growth ring chronology, including one 142‐year‐old, Siberian alder in Northern Alaska. We tested how secondary growth sensitivity to climate has changed over the past century (1920–2017) and how shrub age affects climate sensitivity of alder growth through time.

    We found that over time, alder growth as expressed by the stand chronology became more sensitive to July mean monthly air temperature. Older shrubs displayed higher sensitivity to June and July temperature than younger alders. However, during the first 30 years of growth of any shrub, temperature sensitivity did not differ among individuals. In addition, the June temperature sensitivity of growth series from individual cross‐sections depended on the age of the attached shrub.

    Our results suggest that age contributes to climate sensitivity, likely through modifying internal shrub carbon budgets by changing size and reducing alder's dependence on N‐fixation over time. Older, more sensitive alder may enhance C and N‐cycling while having greater recruitment potential. Linking alder age to climate sensitivity, recruitment and total N‐inputs will enable us to better predict ecosystem carbon and nitrogen cycling in a warmer Arctic.

    Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

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  3. Abstract

    We report a biophysical mechanism, termed cryocampsis (Greek cryo-, cold, + campsis, bending), that helps northern shrubs bend downward under a snow load. Subfreezing temperatures substantially increase the downward bending of cantilever-loaded branches of these shrubs, while allowing them to recover their summer elevation after thawing and becoming unloaded. This is counterintuitive, because biological materials (including branches that show cryocampsis) generally become stiffer when frozen, so should flex less, rather than more, under a given bending load. Cryocampsis involves straining of the cell walls of a branch’s xylem (wood), and depends upon the branch being hydrated. Among woody species tested, cryocampsis occurs in almost all Arctic, some boreal, only a few temperate and Mediterranean, and no tropical woody species that we have tested. It helps cold-winter climate shrubs reversibly get, and stay, below the snow surface, sheltering them from winter weather and predation hazards. This should be advantageous, because Arctic shrub bud winter mortality significantly increases if their shoots are forcibly kept above the snow surface. Our observations reveal a physically surprising behavior of biological materials at subfreezing temperatures, and a previously unrecognized mechanism of woody plant adaptation to cold-winter climates. We suggest that cryocampsis’ mechanism involves the movement of water between cell wall matrix polymers and cell lumens during freezing, analogous to that of frost-heave in soils or rocks.

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  4. Abstract

    Tundra shrubs reflect climate sensitivities in their growth-ring widths, yet tissue-specific shrub chronologies are poorly studied. Further, the relative importance of regional climate patterns that exert mesoscale precipitation and temperature influences on tundra shrub growth has been explored in only a few Arctic locations. Here, we investigateBetula nanagrowth-ring chronologies from adjacent dry heath and moist tussock tundra habitats in arctic Alaska in relation to local and regional climate. Mean shrub and five tissue-specific ring width chronologies were analyzed using serial sectioning of above- and below-ground shrub organs, resulting in 30 shrubs per site with 161 and 104 cross sections from dry and moist tundra, respectively.Betula nanagrowth-ring widths in both habitats were primarily related to June air temperature (1989–2014). The strongest relationships with air temperature were found for ‘Branch2’ chronologies (dry site:r = 0.78, June 16, DOY = 167; moist site:r = 0.75, June 9, DOY = 160). Additionally, below-ground chronologies (‘Root’ and ‘Root2’) from the moist site were positively correlated with daily mean air temperatures in the previous late-June (‘Root2’ chronology:r = 0.57, pDOY = 173). Most tissue-specific chronologies exhibited the strongest correlations with daily mean air temperature during the period between 8 and 20 June. Structural equation modeling indicated that shrub growth is indirectly linked to regional Arctic and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (AO and PDO) climate indices through their relation to summer sea ice extent and air temperature. Strong dependence ofBetula nanagrowth on early growing season temperature indicates a highly coordinated allocation of resources to tissue growth, which might increase its competitive advantage over other shrub species under a rapidly changing Arctic climate.

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  5. Abstract

    Non‐growing season CO2emissions from Arctic tundra remain a major uncertainty in forecasting climate change consequences of permafrost thaw. We present the first time series of soil and microbial CO2emissions from a graminoid tundra based on year‐round in situ measurements of the radiocarbon content of soil CO214CO2) and of bulk soil C (Δ14C), microbial activity, and temperature. Combining these data with land‐atmosphere CO2exchange allows estimates of the proportion and mean age of microbial CO2emissions year‐round. We observe a seasonal shift in emission sources from fresh carbon during the growing season (August Δ14CO2 = 74 ± 4.7‰, 37% ± 3.4% microbial, mean ± se) to increasingly older soil carbon in fall and winter (March Δ14CO2 = 22 ± 1.3‰, 47% ± 8% microbial). Thus, rising soil temperatures and emissions during fall and winter are depleting aged soil carbon pools in the active layer and thawing permafrost and further accelerating climate change.

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  6. Abstract

    An estimated 1700 Pg of carbon is frozen in the Arctic permafrost and the fate of this carbon is unclear because of the complex interaction of biophysical, ecological and biogeochemical processes that govern the Arctic carbon budget. Two key processes determining the region’s long-term carbon budget are: (a) carbon uptake through increased plant growth, and (b) carbon release through increased heterotrophic respiration (HR) due to warmer soils. Previous predictions for how these two opposing carbon fluxes may change in the future have varied greatly, indicating that improved understanding of these processes and their feedbacks is critical for advancing our predictive ability for the fate of Arctic peatlands. In this study, we implement and analyze a vertically-resolved model of peatland soil carbon into a cohort-based terrestrial biosphere model to improve our understanding of how on-going changes in climate are altering the Arctic carbon budget. A key feature of the formulation is that accumulation of peat within the soil column modifies its texture, hydraulic conductivity, and thermal conductivity, which, in turn influences resulting rates of HR within the soil column. Analysis of the model at three eddy covariance tower sites in the Alaskan tundra shows that the vertically-resolved soil column formulation accurately captures the zero-curtain phenomenon, in which the temperature of soil layers remain at or near 0 °C during fall freezeback due to the release of latent heat, is critical to capturing observed patterns of wintertime respiration. We find that significant declines in net ecosystem productivity (NEP) occur starting in 2013 and that these declines are driven by increased HR arising from increased precipitation and warming. Sensitivity analyses indicate that the cumulative NEP over the decade responds strongly to the estimated soil carbon stock and more weakly to vegetation abundance at the beginning of the simulation.

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  7. Abstract

    Methane (CH4) release to the atmosphere from thawing permafrost contributes significantly to global CH4emissions. However, constraining the effects of thaw that control the production and emission of CH4is needed to anticipate future Arctic emissions. Here are presented robust rate measurements of CH4production and cycling in a region of rapidly degrading permafrost. Big Trail Lake, located in central Alaska, is a young, actively expanding thermokarst lake. The lake was investigated by taking two 1 m cores of sediment from different regions. Two independent methods of measuring microbial CH4 production, long term (CH4accumulation) and short term (14C tracer), produced similar average rates of 11 ± 3.5 and 9 ± 3.6 nmol cm−3 d−1, respectively. The rates had small variations between the different lithological units, indicating homogeneous CH4production despite heterogeneous lithology in the surface ~1 m of sediment. To estimate the total CH4production, the CH4production rates were multiplied through the 10–15 m deep talik (thaw bulb). This estimate suggests that CH4 production is higher than emission by a maximum factor of ~2, which is less than previous estimates. Stable and radioactive carbon isotope measurements showed that 50% of dissolved CH4in the first meter was produced further below. Interestingly, labeled14C incubations with 2‐14C acetate and14C CO2indicate that variations in the pathway used by microbes to produce CH4depends on the age and type of organic matter in the sediment, but did not appear to influence the rates at which CH4 was produced. This study demonstrates that at least half of the CH4produced by microbial breakdown of organic matter in actively expanding thermokarst is emitted to the atmosphere, and that the majority of this CH4is produced in the deep sediment.

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  8. Abstract

    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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  9. Abstract

    Many research and monitoring networks in recent decades have provided publicly available data documenting environmental and ecological change, but little is known about the status of efforts to synthesize this information across networks. We convened a working group to assess ongoing and potential cross‐network synthesis research and outline opportunities and challenges for the future, focusing on the US‐based research network (the US Long‐Term Ecological Research network, LTER) and monitoring network (the National Ecological Observatory Network, NEON). LTER‐NEON cross‐network research synergies arise from the potentials for LTER measurements, experiments, models, and observational studies to provide context and mechanisms for interpreting NEON data, and for NEON measurements to provide standardization and broad scale coverage that complement LTER studies. Initial cross‐network syntheses at co‐located sites in the LTER and NEON networks are addressing six broad topics: how long‐term vegetation change influences C fluxes; how detailed remotely sensed data reveal vegetation structure and function; aquatic‐terrestrial connections of nutrient cycling; ecosystem response to soil biogeochemistry and microbial processes; population and species responses to environmental change; and disturbance, stability and resilience. This initial study offers exciting potentials for expanded cross‐network syntheses involving multiple long‐term ecosystem processes at regional or continental scales. These potential syntheses could provide a pathway for the broader scientific community, beyond LTER and NEON, to engage in cross‐network science. These examples also apply to many other research and monitoring networks in the US and globally, and can guide scientists and research administrators in promoting broad‐scale research that supports resource management and environmental policy.

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  10. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024