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Climate-sensitive northern lakes and ponds are critical components of methane release

Abstract

Lakes and ponds represent one of the largest natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane. By surface area, almost half of these waters are located in the boreal region and northwards. A synthesis of measurements of methane emissions from 733 lakes and ponds north of 50° N, combined with new inventories of inland waters, reveals that emissions from these high latitudes amount to around 16.5 Tg CH4 yr−1 (12.4 Tg CH4-C yr−1). This estimate — from lakes and ponds alone — is equivalent to roughly two-thirds of the inverse model calculation of all natural methane sources in the region. Thermokarst water bodies have received attention for their high emission rates, but we find that post-glacial lakes are a larger regional source due to their larger areal extent. Water body depth, sediment type and ecoclimatic region are also important in explaining variation in methane fluxes. Depending on whether warming and permafrost thaw cause expansion or contraction of lake and pond areal coverage, we estimate that annual water body emissions will increase by 20–54% before the end of the century if ice-free seasons are extended by 20 days. We conclude that lakes and ponds are a dominant methane source at high northern latitudes.

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Figure 1: Map of study locations.
Figure 2: Ice-free season CH4 fluxes from lakes and ponds among ecoclimatic regions, permafrost zones, and water body and sediment types.
Figure 3: Daily ice-free season CH4 flux versus water body area and maximum water depth.
Figure 4: Differences in seasonal CH4 fluxes.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the National Science Foundation (NSF) Vulnerability of Permafrost Carbon Research Coordination Network grant no. 955713 and the NSF Research, Synthesis, and Knowledge Transfer in a Changing Arctic: Science Support for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change grant no. 1331083 for support and ideas. Additional support came from the Climate in Cryosphere programme, a core project of the World Climate Research Programme, via the Permafrost Carbon Network. Financial support to M.W. was provided by the Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University and the Swedish Research Council (VR) grant no. 2007-4547 to Prof. P. Crill, and by the Nordic Center of Excellence DEFROST under the Nordic Top-Level Research Initiative. Financial support to S.M. was from U.S. NSF Awards ANS-1204267 and DEB 0919603. D.B. was supported by Linköping University and by grants from VR. We further thank P. Crill, B. Thornton and L. Bruhwiler for comments on the manuscript.

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M.W. compiled the database, made the analysis and figures, and wrote the manuscript. R.K.V. and K.W.A. contributed to the database compilation. R.K.V., K.W.A., S.M. and D.B. assisted in data analysis, interpretation and in writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Martin Wik.

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Wik, M., Varner, R., Anthony, K. et al. Climate-sensitive northern lakes and ponds are critical components of methane release. Nature Geosci 9, 99–105 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2578

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