Articles | Volume 12, issue 4
Biogeosciences, 12, 977–990, 2015

Special issue: Freshwater ecosystems in changing permafrost landscapes

Biogeosciences, 12, 977–990, 2015

Research article 17 Feb 2015

Research article | 17 Feb 2015

Frozen ponds: production and storage of methane during the Arctic winter in a lowland tundra landscape in northern Siberia, Lena River delta

M. Langer1, S. Westermann2,3, K. Walter Anthony4, K. Wischnewski1, and J. Boike1 M. Langer et al.
  • 1Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Periglacial Research Section, Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 3Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 4University of Alaska Fairbanks, Water and Environmental Research Center, Fairbanks, USA

Abstract. Lakes and ponds play a key role in the carbon cycle of permafrost ecosystems, where they are considered to be hotspots of carbon dioxide CO2 and methane CH4 emission. The strength of these emissions is, however, controlled by a variety of physical and biogeochemical processes whose responses to a warming climate are complex and only poorly understood. Small waterbodies have been attracting an increasing amount of attention since recent studies demonstrated that ponds can make a significant contribution to the CO2 and CH4emissions of tundra ecosystems. Waterbodies also have a marked effect on the thermal state of the surrounding permafrost; during the freezing period they prolong the period of time during which thawed soil material is available for microbial decomposition.

This study presents net CH4 production rates during the freezing period from ponds within a typical lowland tundra landscape in northern Siberia. Rate estimations were based on CH4 concentrations measured in surface lake ice from a variety of waterbody types. Vertical profiles along ice blocks showed an exponential increase in CH4 concentration with depth. These CH4 profiles were reproduced by a 1-D mass balance model and the net CH4 production rates were then inferred through inverse modeling.

Results revealed marked differences in early winter net CH4 production among various ponds. Ponds situated within intact polygonal ground structures yielded low net production rates, of the order of 10-11 to 10-10 mol m-2 s-1 (0.01 to 0.14 mgCH4 m-2 day-1). In contrast, ponds exhibiting clear signs of erosion yielded net CH4 production rates of the order of 10-7 mol m-2 s-1 (140 mg CH4 m-2 day-1). Our results therefore indicate that once a particular threshold in thermal erosion has been crossed, ponds can develop into major CH4 sources. This implies that any future warming of the climate may result in nonlinear CH4 emission behavior in tundra ecosystems.

Short summary
Methane production rates of Arctic ponds during the freezing period within a typical tundra landscape in northern Siberia are presented. Production rates were inferred by inverse modeling based on measured methane concentrations in the ice cover. Results revealed marked differences in early winter methane production among ponds showing different stages of shore degradation. This suggests that shore erosion can increase methane production of Arctic ponds by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude.
Final-revised paper