Articles | Volume 13, issue 8
Research article
20 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 20 Apr 2016

The effect of a permafrost disturbance on growing-season carbon-dioxide fluxes in a high Arctic tundra ecosystem

Alison E. Cassidy, Andreas Christen, and Gregory H. R. Henry

Abstract. Soil carbon stored in high-latitude permafrost landscapes is threatened by warming and could contribute significant amounts of carbon to the atmosphere and hydrosphere as permafrost thaws. Thermokarst and permafrost disturbances, especially active layer detachments and retrogressive thaw slumps, are present across the Fosheim Peninsula, Ellesmere Island, Canada. To determine the effects of retrogressive thaw slumps on net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO2 in high Arctic tundra, we used two eddy covariance (EC) tower systems to simultaneously and continuously measure CO2 fluxes from a disturbed site and the surrounding undisturbed tundra. During the 32-day measurement period in the 2014 growing season, the undisturbed tundra was a small net sink (NEE  =  −0.1 g C m−2 d−1); however, the disturbed terrain of the retrogressive thaw slump was a net source (NEE  =  +0.4 g C m−2 d−1). Over the measurement period, the undisturbed tundra sequestered 3.8 g C m−2, while the disturbed tundra released 12.5 g C m−2. Before full leaf-out in early July, the undisturbed tundra was a small source of CO2 but shifted to a sink for the remainder of the sampling season (July), whereas the disturbed tundra remained a source of CO2 throughout the season. A static chamber system was also used to measure daytime fluxes in the footprints of the two towers, in both disturbed and undisturbed tundra, and fluxes were partitioned into ecosystem respiration (Re) and gross primary production (GPP). Average GPP and Re found in disturbed tundra were smaller (+0.40 µmol m−2 s−1 and +0.55 µmol m−2 s−1, respectively) than those found in undisturbed tundra (+1.19 µmol m−2 s−1 and +1.04 µmol m−2 s−1, respectively). Our measurements indicated clearly that the permafrost disturbance changed the high Arctic tundra system from a sink to a source for CO2 during the majority of the growing season (late June and July).

Short summary
We measured the impacts of permafrost disturbances, namely retrogressive thaw slumps, on the carbon balance in a high Arctic tundra ecosystem. We used a novel approach (dual eddy covariance sampling strategy) to measure continuous CO2 exchange from undisturbed and disturbed tundra simultaneously. We further validate eddy covariance fluxes with portable chamber measurements. Our findings show that permafrost disturbances change the carbon balance from being a net sink to a net source.
Final-revised paper