Articles | Volume 10, issue 5
Research article
13 May 2013
Research article |  | 13 May 2013

Winter greenhouse gas fluxes (CO2, CH4 and N2O) from a subalpine grassland

L. Merbold, C. Steinlin, and F. Hagedorn

Abstract. Although greenhouse gas emissions during winter contribute significantly to annual balances, their quantification is still highly uncertain in snow-covered ecosystems. Here, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) fluxes were measured at a subalpine managed grassland in Switzerland using concentration gradients within the snowpack (CO2, CH4, N2O) and the eddy covariance method (CO2) during the winter 2010/2011. Our objectives were (1) to identify the temporal and spatial variation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and their drivers, and (2) to estimate the GHG budget of the site during this specific season (1 December–31 March, 121 days). Mean winter fluxes (December–March) based on the gradient method were 0.77 ± 0.54 μmol m−2 s−1 for CO2 (1.19 ± 1.05 μmol m−2 s−1 measured by eddy covariance), −0.14 ± 0.09 nmol m−2 s−1 for CH4 and 0.23 ± 0.23 nmol m−2 s−1 for N2O, respectively. In comparison with the CO2 fluxes measured by eddy covariance, the gradient technique underestimated the effluxes by 50%. While CO2 and CH4 fluxes decreased with the progressing winter season, N2O fluxes did not follow a seasonal pattern. The major variables correlating with the fluxes of CO2 and CH4 were soil temperature and snow water equivalent, which is based on snow height and snow density. N2O fluxes were only explained poorly by any of the measured environmental variables. Spatial variability across the valley floor was smallest for CO2 and largest for N2O. During the winter season 2010/2011, greenhouse gas fluxes ranged between 550 ± 540 g CO2 m−2 estimated by the eddy covariance approach and 543 ± 247 g CO2 m−2, −0.4 ± 0.01 g CH4 m−2 and 0.11 ± 0.1 g N2O m−2 derived by the gradient technique. Total seasonal greenhouse gas emissions from the grassland were between 574 ± 276 and 581 ± 569 g CO2 eq. m−2, with N2O contributing 5% to the overall budget and CH4 reducing the budget by 0.1%. Cumulative budgets of CO2 were smaller than emissions reported for other subalpine meadows in the Swiss Alps and the Rocky Mountains. Further investigations on the GHG exchange of grasslands in winter are needed in order to (1) deepen our currently limited knowledge on the environmental drivers of each GHG, (2) to thoroughly constrain annual balances, and (3) to project possible changes in GHG flux magnitude with expected shorter and warmer winter periods.

Final-revised paper