Methane Production in the Arctic: Under-recognized Cold Season and Upland Tundra - Arctic Methane Sources (UAMS)
This project used state of the art approaches and knowledge to better understand the current patterns of and controls on methane (CH4) release from the Arctic to the atmosphere and to improve major models to better simulate future releases of CH4 from the Arctic as the planet warms. Atmospheric methane (CH4) is the second most important greenhouse gas (after CO2) that has strong anthropogenic origins. High northern latitude terrestrial ecosystems account for ca. 50% of extra-tropical biogenic wetland emissions. More importantly methane emissions from the Arctic could increase dramatically in the future. The very large organic carbon stocks (>1,300 GtC) in the top 3 m of Arctic soils and the rapid climate change experienced and predicted in the Arctic, results in a very real possibility of large biogenic CH4 release from these soils in this century. Despite the importance of CH4 fluxes from the Arctic, now and in the future, biogenic and total natural CH4 emissions are poorly understood and very poorly modelled (Fisher et al., 2014).
In 2013 five eddy covariance (EC) towers in Arctic Alaska were updated to operate reliably year-round and measure CH4 fluxes. Initial measurements yielded two unexpected and highly significant findings: 1) cold season CH4 emissions account for >50% of annual emissions and 2) drier upland tundra are larger emitters of CH4 than wetter inundated tundra (Zona et al 2016 PNAS). These observations and processes are not now incorporated in leading global land-surface/carbon-cycle models used to calculate current and predict future CH4 emissions from the Arctic. Verifying this new understanding and incorporating this understanding into models used in the UK and elsewhere revolutionised our ability to accurately calculate and model terrestrial CH4 fluxes. These results are critical to verifying current baseline emissions, detecting a changing baseline, and for predicting, with confidence, biogenic CH4 emissions from the Arctic in the future. This project has two overarching objectives: (1) determining the patterns of, controls on, and importance of cold season and upland tundra in Arctic CH4 emissions; (2) incorporating this understanding into JULES, LPJ and TCF, thus significantly improving our ability to estimate current and predict future CH4 fluxes in the Arctic. This work has impacted policy through new information and model development, reported through conferences and publications and referenced in upcoming IPCC reports. In the project, year-round observation of methane release to the atmosphere, and the atmospheric and soil environment that corresponds to these fluxes. The project initiated new experiments and observations to understand the processes and conditions controlling the observed CH4 fluxes including a new system of measurement of CO2, CH4, and 222Rn concentrations that allow autonomous, year-round, determination of CH4 production, consumption, and flux by soil depth and snow layer. The year-round measure of [CH4] and d13CH4 helped identify the importance of methane oxidation in surface soil layers at different locations and seasons and determined the role of GPP in controlling rates of CH4 production. The project also determined the importance of vascular plants in providing a conduit for CH4 produced at depth, to escape to the atmosphere past an oxidizing surface layer.
Grant Ref: NE/P003028/1