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Greenhouse gas production in low-latitude lake sediments responds strongly to warming


Inland water sediments receive large quantities of terrestrial organic matter1,2,3,4,5 and are globally important sites for organic carbon preservation5,6. Sediment organic matter mineralization is positively related to temperature across a wide range of high-latitude ecosystems6,7,8,9,10, but the situation in the tropics remains unclear. Here we assessed temperature effects on the biological production of CO2 and CH4 in anaerobic sediments of tropical lakes in the Amazon and boreal lakes in Sweden. On the basis of conservative regional warming projections until 2100 (ref. 11), we estimate that sediment CO2 and CH4 production will increase 9–61% above present rates. Combining the CO2 and CH4 as CO2 equivalents (CO2eq; ref. 11), the predicted increase is 2.4–4.5 times higher in tropical than boreal sediments. Although the estimated lake area in low latitudes is 3.2 times smaller than that of the boreal zone, we estimate that the increase in gas production from tropical lake sediments would be on average 2.4 times higher for CO2 and 2.8 times higher for CH4. The exponential temperature response of organic matter mineralization, coupled with higher increases in the proportion of CH4 relative to CO2 on warming, suggests that the production of greenhouse gases in tropical sediments will increase substantially. This represents a potential large-scale positive feedback to climate change.

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Figure 1: Temperature sensitivity of anaerobic CO2 and CH4 production in lake sediments.
Figure 2: Contribution of CO2 and CH4 to total CO2eq production at different temperatures.

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This research was supported by funds from STINT (The Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education), The State of Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation (project E-26/110.276/2012) and the Brazilian National Council of Scientific Research (project 477131/2013-1). We thank J. Johansson (Uppsala University) for sampling and chemical analysis support and R. Conrad (Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology) for suggestions. A.E-P. also acknowledges financial support from CAPES/STINT (9341-11-0) and CNPq (projects 402502/2012-4; 476127/2013-0). H. Marotta is grateful for a post-doctoral fellowship from the Swedish Institute.

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All authors contributed to the study design, conducted the experiment, interpreted data and wrote or commented on the manuscript. H.M. and L.P. also performed the sampling and most of the sample analyses.

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Correspondence to H. Marotta.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Marotta, H., Pinho, L., Gudasz, C. et al. Greenhouse gas production in low-latitude lake sediments responds strongly to warming. Nature Clim Change 4, 467–470 (2014).

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