Arctic soil methane sink increases with drier conditions and higher ecosystem respiration
Kathryn A. Bennett,
T. Andrew Black,
Maija E. Marushchak,
Evan J. Wilcox,
Nature Climate Change
Abstract Arctic wetlands are known methane (CH 4 ) emitters but recent studies suggest that the Arctic CH 4 sink strength may be underestimated. Here we explore the capacity of well-drained Arctic soils to consume atmospheric CH 4 using >40,000 hourly flux observations and spatially distributed flux measurements from 4 sites and 14 surface types. While consumption of atmospheric CH 4 occurred at all sites at rates of 0.092 ± 0.011 mgCH 4 m −2 h −1 (mean ± s.e.), CH 4 uptake displayed distinct diel and seasonal patterns reflecting ecosystem respiration. Combining in situ flux data with laboratory investigations and a machine learning approach, we find biotic drivers to be highly important. Soil moisture outweighed temperature as an abiotic control and higher CH 4 uptake was linked to increased availability of labile carbon. Our findings imply that soil drying and enhanced nutrient supply will promote CH 4 uptake by Arctic soils, providing a negative feedback to global climate change.
Abstract. Thermokarst lake water balances are becoming increasingly vulnerable to change in the Arctic as air temperature increases and precipitation patterns shift. In the tundra uplands east of the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories, Canada, previous research has found that lakes responded non-uniformly to changes in precipitation, suggesting that lake and watershed properties moderate the response of lakes to climate change. To investigate how lake and watershed properties and meteoro5 logical conditions influence the water balance of thermokarst lakes in this region, we sampled 25 lakes for isotope analysis five times in 2018, beginning before snowmelt on May 1 and ending on September 3. Water isotope data were used to calculate the ratio of evaporation-to-inflow (E/I) and the average isotope composition of lake source water (δI). We identified four distinct water balance phases as lakes responded to seasonal shifts in meteorological conditions and hydrological processes. During the freshet phase from May 1 to June 15, the median E/I ratio of lakes decreased from 0.20 to 0.13 in response to freshet runoff 10 and limited evaporation due to lake ice presence that persisted for the duration of this phase. During the following warm, dry, and ice-free period from June 15 to July 26, designated the evaporation phase, the median E/I ratio increased to 0.19. During the brief soil wetting phase, E/I ratios did not respond to rainfall between July 26 and August 2, likely because watershed soils absorbed most of the precipitation which resulted in minimal runoff to lakes. The median E/I ratio decreased to 0.11 after an unseasonably cool and rainy August, identified as the recharge phase. Throughout the sampling period, δI remained relatively 15 stable and most lakes contained a greater amount of rainfall-sourced water than snow-sourced water, even after the freshet phase due to snowmelt bypass. The range of average E/I ratios we observed at lakes (0.00–0.43) was relatively narrow and low compared to thermokarst lakes in other regions, likely owing to the large watershed area to lake area (WA/LA), efficient preferential flow pathways for runoff, and a shorter ice-free season. WA/LA strongly predicted average lake E/I ratio (R2 = 0.74), as lakes with smaller WA/LA tended to have higher E/I ratios because they received relatively less inflow. We used this 20 relationship to predict the average E/I ratio of 7340 lakes in the region, finding that lakes are not vulnerable to desiccation in this region, given that all predicted average E/I values were <0.33. If future permafrost thaw and warming cause less runoff to flow into lakes, we expect that lakes with smaller WA/LA will be more influenced by increasing evaporation, while lakes with larger WA/LA will be more resistant to lake-level drawdown. However under wetter conditions, lakes with larger WA/LA will likely experience greater increases in lake level and could be more susceptible to rapid drainage as a result.
Abstract. Topography and vegetation play a major role in sub-pixel variability of Arctic snowpack properties but are not considered in current passive microwave (PMW) satellite SWE retrievals. Simulation of sub-pixel variability of snow properties is also problematic when downscaling snow and climate models. In this study, we simplified observed variability of snowpack properties (depth, density, microstructure) in a two-layer model with mean values and distributions of two multi-year tundra dataset so they could be incorporated in SWE retrieval schemes. Spatial variation of snow depth was parameterized by a log-normal distribution with mean (μsd) values and coefficients of variation (CVsd). Snow depth variability (CVsd) was found to increase as a function of the area measured by a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS). Distributions of snow specific surface area (SSA) and density were found for the wind slab (WS) and depth hoar (DH) layers. The mean depth hoar fraction (DHF) was found to be higher in Trail Valley Creek (TVC) than in Cambridge Bay (CB), where TVC is at a lower latitude with a subarctic shrub tundra compared to CB, which is a graminoid tundra. DHFs were fitted with a Gaussian process and predicted from snow depth. Simulations of brightness temperatures using the Snow Microwave Radiative Transfer (SMRT) model incorporating snow depth and DHF variation were evaluated with measurements from the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager and Sounder (SSMIS) sensor. Variation in snow depth (CVsd) is proposed as an effective parameter to account for sub-pixel variability in PMW emission, improving simulation by 8 K. SMRT simulations using a CVsd of 0.9 best matched CVsd observations from spatial datasets for areas > 3 km2, which is comparable to the 3.125 km pixel size of the Equal-Area Scalable Earth (EASE)-Grid 2.0 enhanced resolution at 37 GHz.
Abstract. Snow represents the largest potential source of water for thermokarst lakes, but the runoff generated by snowmelt (freshet) can flow beneath lake ice and via the outlet without mixing with and replacing pre-snowmelt lake water. Although this phenomenon, called “snowmelt bypass”, is common in ice-covered lakes, it is unknown which lake and watershed properties cause variation in snowmelt bypass among lakes. Understanding the variability of snowmelt bypass is important because the amount of freshet that is mixed into a lake affects the hydrological and biogeochemical properties of the lake. To explore lake and watershed attributes that influence snowmelt bypass, we sampled 17 open-drainage thermokarst lakes for isotope analysis before and after snowmelt. Isotope data were used to estimate the amount of lake water replaced by freshet and to observe how the water sources of lakes changed in response to the freshet. Among the lakes, a median of 25.2 % of lake water was replaced by freshet, with values ranging widely from 5.2 % to 52.8 %. For every metre that lake depth increased, the portion of lake water replaced by freshet decreased by an average of 13 %, regardless of the size of the lake's watershed. The thickness of the freshet layer was not proportional to maximum lake depth, so that a relatively larger portion of pre-snowmelt lake water remained isolated in deeper lakes. We expect that a similar relationship between increasing lake depth and greater snowmelt bypass could be present at all ice-covered open-drainage lakes that are partially mixed during the freshet. The water source of freshet that was mixed into lakes was not exclusively snowmelt but a combination of snowmelt mixed with rain-sourced water that was released as the soil thawed after snowmelt. As climate warming increases rainfall and shrubification causes earlier snowmelt timing relative to lake ice melt, snowmelt bypass may become more prevalent, with the water remaining in thermokarst lakes post-freshet becoming increasingly rainfall sourced. However, if climate change causes lake levels to fall below the outlet level (i.e., lakes become closed-drainage), more freshet may be retained by thermokarst lakes as snowmelt bypass will not be able to occur until lakes reach their outlet level.
Arctic tundra environments are characterized by a spatially heterogeneous end-of-winter snow depth resulting from wind transport and deposition. Traditional methods for measuring snow depth do not accurately capture such heterogeneity at catchment scales. In this study we address the use of high-resolution, spatially distributed, snow depth data for Arctic environments through the application of unmanned aerial systems (UASs). We apply Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry to images collected using a fixed-wing UAS to produce a 1 m resolution snow depth product across seven areas of interest (AOIs) within the Trail Valley Creek Research Watershed, Northwest Territories, Canada. We evaluated these snow depth products with in situ measurements of both the snow surface elevation (n = 8434) and snow depth (n = 7191). When all AOIs were averaged, the RMSE of the snow surface elevation models was 0.16 m (<0.01 m bias), similar to the snow depth product (UAS SD ) RMSE of 0.15 m (+0.04 m bias). The distribution of snow depth between in situ measurements and UAS SD was similar along the transects where in situ snow depth was collected, although similarity varies by AOI. Finally, we provide a discussion of factors that may influence the accuracy of the snow depth products including vegetation, environmental conditions, and study design.
This paper investigates different methods for quantifying thaw subsidence using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) point clouds. Thaw subsidence is a slow (millimetre to centimetre per year) vertical displacement of the ground surface common in ice‐rich permafrost‐underlain landscapes. It is difficult to quantify thaw subsidence in tundra areas as they often lack stable reference frames. Also, there is no solid ground surface to serve as a basis for elevation measurements, due to a continuous moss–lichen cover. We investigate how an expert‐driven method improves the accuracy of benchmark measurements at discrete locations within two sites using multitemporal TLS data of a 1‐year period. Our method aggregates multiple experts’ determination of the ground surface in 3D point clouds, collected in a web‐based tool. We then compare this to the performance of a fully automated ground surface determination method. Lastly, we quantify ground surface displacement by directly computing multitemporal point cloud distances, thereby extending thaw subsidence observation to an area‐based assessment. Using the expert‐driven quantification as reference, we validate the other methods, including in‐situ benchmark measurements from a conventional field survey. This study demonstrates that quantifying the ground surface using 3D point clouds is more accurate than the field survey method. The expert‐driven method achieves an accuracy of 0.1 ± 0.1 cm. Compared to this, in‐situ benchmark measurements by single surveyors yield an accuracy of 0.4 ± 1.5 cm. This difference between the two methods is important, considering an observed displacement of 1.4 cm at the sites. Thaw subsidence quantification with the fully automatic benchmark‐based method achieves an accuracy of 0.2 ± 0.5 cm and direct point cloud distance computation an accuracy of 0.2 ± 0.9 cm. The range in accuracy is largely influenced by properties of vegetation structure at locations within the sites. The developed methods enable a link of automated quantification and expert judgement for transparent long‐term monitoring of permafrost subsidence.
Advancing Field-Based GNSS Surveying for Validation of Remotely Sensed Water Surface Elevation Products
L. H. Pitcher,
L. C. Smith,
S. W. Cooley,
R. L. Carlson,
Joseph L. Pettit,
C. J. Gleason,
J. T. Minear,
Jessica V. Fayne,
M. J. Willis,
J. S. Hansen,
E. D. Kyzivat,
Evan J. Wilcox,
Daniel Medéiros Moreira,
Frontiers in Earth Science, Volume 8
To advance monitoring of surface water resources, new remote sensing technologies including the forthcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite (expected launch 2022) and its experimental airborne prototype AirSWOT are being developed to repeatedly map water surface elevation (WSE) and slope (WSS) of the world’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. However, the vertical accuracies of these novel technologies are largely unverified; thus, standard and repeatable field procedures to validate remotely sensed WSE and WSS are needed. To that end, we designed, engineered, and operationalized a Water Surface Profiler (WaSP) system that efficiently and accurately surveys WSE and WSS in a variety of surface water environments using Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) time-averaged measurements with Precise Point Positioning corrections. Here, we present WaSP construction, deployment, and a data processing workflow. We demonstrate WaSP data collections from repeat field deployments in the North Saskatchewan River and three prairie pothole lakes near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. We find that WaSP reproducibly measures WSE and WSS with vertical accuracies similar to standard field survey methods [WSE root mean squared difference (RMSD) ∼8 cm, WSS RMSD ∼1.3 cm/km] and that repeat WaSP deployments accurately quantify water level changes (RMSD ∼3 cm). Collectively, these results suggest that WaSP is an easily deployed, self-contained system with sufficient accuracy for validating the decimeter-level expected accuracies of SWOT and AirSWOT. We conclude by discussing the utility of WaSP for validating airborne and spaceborne WSE mappings, present 63 WaSP in situ lake WSE measurements collected in support of NASA’s Arctic-Boreal and Vulnerability Experiment, highlight routine deployment in support of the Lake Observation by Citizen Scientists and Satellites project, and explore WaSP utility for validating a novel GNSS interferometric reflectometry LArge Wave Warning System.
Abstract. Connections between vegetation and soil thermal dynamics are critical for estimating the vulnerability of permafrost to thaw with continued climate warming and vegetation changes. The interplay of complex biophysical processes results in a highly heterogeneous soil temperature distribution on small spatial scales. Moreover, the link between topsoil temperature and active layer thickness remains poorly constrained. Sixty-eight temperature loggers were installed at 1–3 cm depth to record the distribution of topsoil temperatures at the Trail Valley Creek study site in the northwestern Canadian Arctic. The measurements were distributed across six different vegetation types characteristic for this landscape. Two years of topsoil temperature data were analysed statistically to identify temporal and spatial characteristics and their relationship to vegetation, snow cover, and active layer thickness. The mean annual topsoil temperature varied between −3.7 and 0.1 ∘C within 0.5 km2. The observed variation can, to a large degree, be explained by variation in snow cover. Differences in snow depth are strongly related with vegetation type and show complex associations with late-summer thaw depth. While cold winter soil temperature is associated with deep active layers in the following summer for lichen and dwarf shrub tundra, we observed the opposite beneath tall shrubs and tussocks. In contrast to winter observations, summer topsoil temperature is similar below all vegetation types with an average summer topsoil temperature difference of less than 1 ∘C. Moreover, there is no significant relationship between summer soil temperature or cumulative positive degree days and active layer thickness. Altogether, our results demonstrate the high spatial variability of topsoil temperature and active layer thickness even within specific vegetation types. Given that vegetation type defines the direction of the relationship between topsoil temperature and active layer thickness in winter and summer, estimates of permafrost vulnerability based on remote sensing or model results will need to incorporate complex local feedback mechanisms of vegetation change and permafrost thaw.
The overall spatial and temporal influence of shrub expansion on permafrost is largely unknown due to uncertainty in estimating the magnitude of many counteracting processes. For example, shrubs shade the ground during the snow-free season, which can reduce active layer thickness. At the same time, shrubs advance the timing of snowmelt when they protrude through the snow surface, thereby exposing the active layer to thawing earlier in spring. Here, we compare 3056 in situ frost table depth measurements split between mineral earth hummocks and organic inter-hummock zones across four dominant shrub–tundra vegetation types. Snow-free date, snow depth, hummock development, topography, and vegetation cover were compared to frost table depth measurements using a structural equation modeling approach that quantifies the direct and combined interacting influence of these variables. Areas of birch shrubs became snow free earlier regardless of snow depth or hillslope aspect because they protruded through the snow surface, leading to deeper hummock frost table depths. Projected increases in shrub height and extent combined with projected decreases in snowfall would lead to increased shrub protrusion across the Arctic, potentially deepening the active layer in areas where shrub protrusion advances the snow-free date.