Temperature, moisture and freeze–thaw controls on CO2 production in soil incubations from northern peatlands
Jonathan S. Price,
William L. Quinton,
Philippe Van Cappellen
Scientific Reports, Volume 11, Issue 1
Peat accumulation in high latitude wetlands represents a natural long-term carbon sink, resulting from the cumulative excess of growing season net ecosystem production over non-growing season (NGS) net mineralization in soils. With high latitudes experiencing warming at a faster pace than the global average, especially during the NGS, a major concern is that enhanced mineralization of soil organic carbon will steadily increase CO2 emissions from northern peatlands. In this study, we conducted laboratory incubations with soils from boreal and temperate peatlands across Canada. Peat soils were pretreated for different soil moisture levels, and CO2 production rates were measured at 12 sequential temperatures, covering a range from - 10 to + 35 °C including one freeze-thaw event. On average, the CO2 production rates in the boreal peat samples increased more sharply with temperature than in the temperate peat samples. For same temperature, optimum soil moisture levels for CO2 production were higher in the peat samples from more flooded sites. However, standard reaction kinetics (e.g., Q10 temperature coefficient and Arrhenius equation) failed to account for the apparent lack of temperature dependence of CO2 production rates measured below 0 °C, and a sudden increase after a freezing event. Thus, we caution against using the simple kinetic expressions to represent the CO2 emissions from northern peatlands, especially regarding the long NGS period with multiple soil freeze and thaw events.
Resource extraction in Canada's boreal ecozone increases the risk of contaminant release into the area's extensive bog and fen peatlands. Lateral spreading, then upwards transport of solutes into the vadose zone of these moss‐dominated ecosystems, could be toxic to vegetation. To evaluate the rate and character of contaminant rise in a subarctic bog, vadose zone‐specific conductance and water content were measured in four hummocks ∼5 m downslope of a 45‐d 300‐mg L−1 NaCl release. Four 30‐cm‐deep hummock peat mesocosms were extracted adjacent to the release site for an unsaturated evaporation‐driven NaCl breakthrough experiment and subsequent parameterization. The field rate of solute accumulation was slower in near‐surface (0–5 cm) peat, where low water contents limited pore connectivity. Solute accumulation was reduced by downward flushing by rain, though this was lesser in near surface moss where solute remained held in small disconnected pores. In the laboratory, Cl− rise reached the 15‐cm depth in all mesocosms by Day 65. Sodium rise was 2.2 times slower, likely due to adsorption to the peat matrix. Rates of upwards solute movement were highly variable; the highest rates occurred in the mesocosm with small but hydrologically conductive pores near the surface, and the lowest occurred where vascular roots disrupted the physical structure of the peat. This research demonstrates that solute spilled into a bog peatland is likely to rise and be retained in the vadose zone. However, hydraulic and solute transport behaviors are sensitive to the vertical structure of peat, underscoring the need for extensive sampling and parameter characterization.
Peatlands are wetlands that provide important ecosystem services including carbon sequestration and water storage that respond to hydrological, biological, and biogeochemical processes. These processes are strongly influenced by the complex pore structure of peat soils. We explore the literature on peat pore structure and the implications for hydrological, biogeochemical, and microbial processes in peat, highlighting the gaps in our current knowledge and a path to move forward. Peat is an elastic and multi-porous structured organic soil. Surficial (near-surface) peats are typically dominated by large interconnected macropores that rapidly transmit water and solutes when saturated, but these large pores drain rapidly with a reduction in pore-water pressure, and disproportionally decrease the bulk effective hydraulic conductivity, thus water fluxes that drive ecohydrological functions. The more advanced state of decomposition of older (deeper) peat, with a greater abundance of small pores, restricts the loss of moisture at similar soil water pressures and is associated with higher unsaturated hydraulic conductivities. As evaporation and precipitation occur, peat soils shrink and swell, respectively, changing the hydrological connectivity that maintain physiological processes at the peat surface. Due to the disproportionate change in pore structure and associated hydraulic properties with state of decomposition, transport processes are limited at depth, creating a zone of enhanced transport in the less decomposed peat near the surface. At the micro-scale, rapid equilibration of solutes and water occurs between the mobile and immobile pores due to diffusion, resulting in pore regions with similar chemical concentrations that are not affected by advective fluxes. These immobile regions may be the primary sites for microbial biogeochemical processes in peat. Mass transfer limitations may therefore largely regulate belowground microbial turnover and, hence, biogeochemical cycling. For peat, the development of a comprehensive theory that links the hydrological, biological, and biogeochemical processes will require a concerted interdisciplinary effort. To that end, we have highlighted four primary areas to focus our collective research: 1) understanding the combined and interrelated effects of parent material, decomposition, and nutrient status on peat pore connectivity, macropore development and collapse, and solute transport, 2) determining the influence of changing pore structure due to freeze-thaw or dewatering on the hydrology and biogeochemistry, 3) better elucidating the non-equilibrium transport processes in peat, and 4) exploring the implications of peat’s pore structure on microbiological and biogeochemical processes.
Peatlands in the Western Boreal Plains act as important water sources in the landscape. Their persistence, despite potential evapotranspiration (PET) often exceeding annual precipitation, is attributed to various water storage mechanisms. One storage element that has been understudied is seasonal ground ice (SGI). This study characterized spring SGI conditions and explored its impacts on available energy, actual evapotranspiration, water table, and near surface soil moisture in a western boreal plains peatland. The majority of SGI melt took place over May 2017. Microtopography had limited impact on melt rates due to wet conditions. SGI melt released 139mm in ice water equivalent (IWE) within the top 30cm of the peat, and weak significant relationships with water table and surface moisture suggest that SGI could be important for maintaining vegetation transpiration during dry springs. Melting SGI decreased available energy causing small reductions in PET (<10mm over the melt period) and appeared to reduce actual evapotranspiration variability but not mean rates, likely due to slow melt rates. This suggests that melting SGI supplies water, allowing evapotranspiration to occur at near potential rates, but reduces the overall rate at which evapotranspiration could occur (PET). The role of SGI may help peatlands in headwater catchments act as a conveyor of water to downstream landscapes during the spring while acting as a supply of water for the peatland. Future work should investigate SGI influences on evapotranspiration under differing peatland types, wet and dry spring conditions, and if the spatial variability of SGI melt leads to spatial variability in evapotranspiration.
Abstract Western Boreal Canada could experience drier hydrometeorological conditions under future climatic changes, and the drying of nonpermafrost peatlands can lead to higher frequency and extent of wildfires. Despite increasing pressures, our understanding of the impact of fire on dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration and quality across boreal peatlands is not consistent. This study capitalizes on the rare opportunity of having 3 years of prefire and 3 years of postfire DOC data at a treed, moderate‐rich fen in the Western Boreal Plain, northern Alberta, to investigate wildfire effects on peatland DOC dynamics. We investigated whether a wildfire facilitated any changes in the pore water DOC concentration and quality. There was very little impact of the fire directly, with no significant changes in DOC concentrations postfire. We highlight that DOC patterns are more likely to be controlled by local hydrogeological factors than any effect of fire. Fall hydrological conditions and subsequent winter storage processes impose a strong control on DOC concentrations the following year. We suggest that the presence or absence of concrete ground frost in the fen (determined by fall water table position) influences overwinter storage changes, controlling the effect that DOC‐poor snowmelt may have on pore water concentrations. However, an increase in SUVA 254 was found 2 years postfire, indicating an increase in aromaticity. These results highlight the need for careful consideration of the local hydrogeologic setting and hydrological regime when predicting and analysing trends in DOC concentrations and quality.
Ecohydrological functioning of natural Boreal forest in Canada's Boreal Plains is a product of interactions between soil hydrophysical characteristics and hydrogeochemical processes. These interactions create a moisture–nutrient gradient within the surface soils, increasing along low‐relief transitions from upland to riparian zone, and in turn influence the distribution of vegetation communities. It is not yet known if/when analogous ecohydrological functions can be achieved in constructed uplands following industrial disturbance, such as that following oil sands development. Hence, to assess this, we studied interactions between hydrogeochemical processes and vegetation colonization in a constructed upland relative to hydrophysical properties of 2 reclamation cover substrates during a typical continental climate's growing season. Our results indicated that in 3 years of postconstruction, the establishment of a moisture–nutrient gradient that supports vegetation colonization along slope positions was still limited by heterogeneity of cover substrates. Portions of the upland under peat–mineral mix were characterized by lower nutrient availability, high moisture content, and establishment of planted shrubs and trees. In contrast, forest floor materials plots were characterized by poor soil quality, but higher nutrient availability and greater colonization of invasive grasses and native shrubs. We suggest that the colonization of underdeveloped soils by invasive grasses may facilitate pedogenic processes and thus should be accepted by reclamation managers as a successional milestone in the recovery of ecohydrological functioning of constructed uplands. Poor soil structure under forest floor materials could not support edaphic conditions required by plants to efficiently utilize fertilizer, making this practise futile at the early stage of soil development.