Articles | Volume 14, issue 2
Research article
23 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 23 Jan 2017

Annual variability and regulation of methane and sulfate fluxes in Baltic Sea estuarine sediments

Joanna E. Sawicka and Volker Brüchert

Abstract. Marine methane emissions originate largely from near-shore coastal systems, but emission estimates are often not based on temporally well-resolved data or sufficient understanding of the variability of methane consumption and production processes in the underlying sediment. The objectives of our investigation were to explore the effects of seasonal temperature, changes in benthic oxygen concentration, and historical eutrophication on sediment methane concentrations and benthic fluxes at two type localities for open-water coastal versus eutrophic, estuarine sediment in the Baltic Sea. Benthic fluxes of methane and oxygen and sediment pore-water concentrations of dissolved sulfate, methane, and 35S-sulfate reduction rates were obtained over a 12-month period from April 2012 to April 2013. Benthic methane fluxes varied by factors of 5 and 12 at the offshore coastal site and the eutrophic estuarine station, respectively, ranging from 0.1 mmol m−2 d−1 in winter at an open coastal site to 2.6 mmol m−2 d−1 in late summer in the inner eutrophic estuary. Total oxygen uptake (TOU) and 35S-sulfate reduction rates (SRRs) correlated with methane fluxes showing low rates in the winter and high rates in the summer. The highest pore-water methane concentrations also varied by factors of 6 and 10 over the sampling period with the lowest values in the winter and highest values in late summer–early autumn. The highest pore-water methane concentrations were 5.7 mM a few centimeters below the sediment surface, but they never exceeded the in situ saturation concentration. Of the total sulfate reduction, 21–24 % was coupled to anaerobic methane oxidation, lowering methane concentrations below the sediment surface far below the saturation concentration. The data imply that bubble emission likely plays no or only a minor role in methane emissions in these sediments. The changes in pore-water methane concentrations over the observation period were too large to be explained by temporal changes in methane formation and methane oxidation rates due to temperature alone. Additional factors such as regional and local hydrostatic pressure changes and coastal submarine groundwater flow may also affect the vertical and lateral transport of methane.

Short summary
The biogeochemistry of methane was studied in high-latitude fjord-type estuarine sediment in the Baltic Sea from April 2012 to April 2013. A large variability in methane-producing and methane-oxidizing processes was observed over the year. Oxygen was the most important regulator for the methane flux. In addition to eutrophication effects, free gas movement is suggested as a factor controlling methane concentrations.
Final-revised paper