Articles | Volume 14, issue 12
Biogeosciences, 14, 3157–3169, 2017
Biogeosciences, 14, 3157–3169, 2017

Research article 29 Jun 2017

Research article | 29 Jun 2017

Spatial variability of CO2 uptake in polygonal tundra: assessing low-frequency disturbances in eddy covariance flux estimates

Norbert Pirk1,2, Jakob Sievers3, Jordan Mertes2,4, Frans-Jan W. Parmentier5, Mikhail Mastepanov1,3, and Torben R. Christensen1,3 Norbert Pirk et al.
  • 1Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University, Sölvegatan 12, 22362 Lund, Sweden
  • 2Geology Department, The University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS, 9171 Longyearbyen, Norway
  • 3Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
  • 4Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, Michigan Technological University, 630 Dow Environmental Sciences, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931, USA
  • 5Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway, Postboks 6050 Langnes, 9037 Tromsø, Norway

Abstract. The large spatial variability in Arctic tundra complicates the representative assessment of CO2 budgets. Accurate measurements of these heterogeneous landscapes are, however, essential to understanding their vulnerability to climate change. We surveyed a polygonal tundra lowland on Svalbard with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that mapped ice-wedge morphology to complement eddy covariance (EC) flux measurements of CO2. The analysis of spectral distributions showed that conventional EC methods do not accurately capture the turbulent CO2 exchange with a spatially heterogeneous surface that typically features small flux magnitudes. Nonlocal (low-frequency) flux contributions were especially pronounced during snowmelt and introduced a large bias of −46 gC m−2 to the annual CO2 budget in conventional methods (the minus sign indicates a higher uptake by the ecosystem). Our improved flux calculations with the ogive optimization method indicated that the site was a strong sink for CO2 in 2015 (−82 gC m−2). Due to differences in light-use efficiency, wetter areas with low-centered polygons sequestered 47 % more CO2 than drier areas with flat-centered polygons. While Svalbard has experienced a strong increase in mean annual air temperature of more than 2 K in the last few decades, historical aerial photographs from the site indicated stable ice-wedge morphology over the last 7 decades. Apparently, warming has thus far not been sufficient to initiate strong ice-wedge degradation, possibly due to the absence of extreme heat episodes in the maritime climate on Svalbard. However, in Arctic regions where ice-wedge degradation has already initiated the associated drying of landscapes, our results suggest a weakening of the CO2 sink in polygonal tundra.

Final-revised paper