Climate Change

Wetlands are key for accurate greenhouse gas measurements in the Arctic: study

Researchers found that between 2006 and 2015, tundra wetlands in Western Russia had remained hotspots of carbon and methane emissions in the region

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 11 September 2018

Credit: University of Eastern FinlandA new study has indicated that wetlands in the Arctic are key to determining the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the region.

The study, conducted by the University of Eastern Finland, is based on model simulations with various ecosystem models. It found that for the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015, the tundra of Western Russia had likely remained a “net carbon sink”, sequestering atmospheric CO2 through plant uptake and growth. This signal varied little between all the years and was particularly strong in wetlands, which were “hotspots” for carbon uptake. Wetlands are also “hotspots” of methane emissions in the region, making the identification of wetlands essential for determining the regional carbon budget.

However, it remains challenging to determine the area of tundra wetlands at broader scales because they can be difficult to identify from satellite images, requiring many measurements on the ground to verify their locations.

“Due to harsh winter conditions, making measurements throughout the year in tundra sites is exceptionally difficult. Few measurements have been made, making the assessment of the Arctic carbon balance challenging. Previously, researchers from the Biogeochemistry research group at the University had measured carbon balance in Western Russia during four growing seasons, but also during more rarely studied periods the spring, fall and winter, laying the groundwork for a longer-term assessment of whether the site has continued to take up atmospheric carbon. Now, the researchers from this group are evaluating just that: is this region a net carbon sink over a decade and why or why not?” noted a press release from the University.

The study assumes importance since the Arctic is rapidly warming, with stronger effects than observed elsewhere in the world. The Arctic regions are particularly important with respect to climate change, as permafrost soils store huge amounts of the Earth’s soil carbon. Warming of Arctic soils and thawing of permafrost can have substantial consequences for the global climate, as the large C stored in soils could be released to the atmosphere as the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. The release of these heat-trapping gases, in turn, has the potential to further enhance climate warming.

The results were recently published in environmental science journal, Global Change Biology.

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