Methane Production in the Arctic: Under-recognized Cold Season and Upland Tundra – Arctic Methane Sources-UAMS

In this project, we will use 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, we updated five eddy covariance (EC) towers in Arctic Alaska 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 will revolutionize our ability to accurately calculate and model terrestrial CH4 fluxes. These results, if supported by the outputs of this project, 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 is expected to impact policy through new information and model development, reported through conferences and publications and referenced in upcoming IPCC reports. In the project, we will continue year-round observation of methane release to the atmosphere, and the atmospheric and soil environment that corresponds to these fluxes. We will initiate 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. We will measure year-round [CH4] and d13CH4 will help identify the importance of methane oxidation in surface soil layers at different locations and seasons. And we will determine the role of GPP in controlling rates of CH4 production. We will also determine the importance of vascular plants in providing a conduit for CH4 produced at depth, to escape to the atmosphere past an oxidizing surface layer. This new information will inform model development and improvement of models used by the Arctic community. Performance of these models will verified with unique data sets not used in model development. As a result, we intend UAMS to have a major impact on the communities’ ability to calculate current and to predict with confidence future Arctic CH4 emissions in a changing world and thereby better inform policy decisions.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£89,907 GBP
Start date
30 Sep 2016
3 years 8 months 29 days
End date
29 Jun 2020