Letter abstract

Nature Geoscience 3, 332 - 335 (2010)
Published online: 4 April 2010 | Corrected online: 26 May 2010 | doi:10.1038/ngeo803

Subject Category: Biogeochemistry

High nitrous oxide production from thawing permafrost

Bo Elberling1,2,3, Hanne H. Christiansen3 & Birger U. Hansen1


Permafrost soils contain nearly twice as much carbon as the atmosphere1. When these soils thaw, large quantities of carbon are lost, mainly in the form of methane and carbon dioxide1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. In contrast, thawing is thought to have little impact on nitrous oxide emissions, which remain minimal following the summer thaw4. Here, we examined the impact of thawing on nitrous oxide production in permafrost cores collected from a heath site and a wetland site in Zackenberg, Greenland. Rates of nitrous oxide production in the heath soil were minimal, regardless of the hydrological conditions. Although rates of nitrous oxide production in the wetland soil were low following thawing, averaging 1.37μgNh−1kg−1, they were 18μgNh−1kg−1 for permafrost samples following thawing, drainage and rewetting with the original meltwater. We show that 31% of the nitrous oxide produced after thawing and rewetting a 10-cm permafrost core—equivalent to 34mgNm−2d−1—was released to the atmosphere; this is equivalent to daily nitrous oxide emissions from tropical forests on a mean annual basis 10. Measurements of nitrous oxide production in permafrost samples from five additional wetland sites in the high Arctic indicate that the rates of nitrous oxide production observed in the Zackenberg soils may be in the low range.

  1. Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen, DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. Department of Biology, The University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway
  3. Department of Geology, The University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway

Correspondence to: Bo Elberling1,2,3 e-mail: be@geo.ku.dk

* In the version of this Letter originally published, Fig. 2b was incorrect and should have been as shown here. This error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the Letter.


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