Letter | Published:

Large N2O emissions from cryoturbated peat soil in tundra

Nature Geoscience volume 2, pages 189192 (2009) | Download Citation



Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas whose concentration is increasing in the atmosphere1. So far, the highest terrestrial nitrous oxide emissions have been measured in agricultural and tropical soils2,3, and nitrous oxide emissions from northern natural soils have been considered negligible4,5. Pristine tundra, one of the largest natural land cover types in the world, is a mosaic of different surface types including bare surfaces created by cryoturbation6,7. Here we used a static chamber method to measure nitrous oxide emissions from the discontinuous permafrost zone in subarctic East European tundra. We show that nitrous oxide emissions from bare peat surfaces in the region, known as peat circles, range between 0.9 and 1.4 g nitrous oxide m−2 from June to October, and are equivalent to those from tropical and agricultural soils. Extrapolation of our data to the whole Arctic reveals that the emissions from these hot spots could amount to 0.1 Tg nitrous oxide yr−1, corresponding to 4% of the global warming potential of Arctic methane emissions at present. Therefore, not only carbon, but also nitrogen stored in permafrost soils, has to be considered when assessing the present and future climatic impact of tundra.

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We thank I. Maruschyak, P. Ievlev, V. Schanov, T. Ronkainen, I. Samarina and T. Trubnikova for field and laboratory assistance and O. Lindqvist for his comments on the manuscript. This research was financially supported by the EU 6th Framework Programme Global Change and Ecosystems (CARBO-North, contract number 036993; www.carbonorth.net). M.E.R. was supported by the Finnish Graduate School in Forest Sciences.

Author information


  1. Department of Environmental Science, University of Kuopio, PO Box 1627, FIN-70211 Kuopio, Finland

    • Maija E. Repo
    • , Saara E. Lind
    • , Simo Jokinen
    • , Christina Biasi
    •  & Pertti J. Martikainen
  2. Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 27, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland

    • Sanna Susiluoto
    •  & Tarmo Virtanen
  3. Institute of Biology, Komi SC UrD RAS, 197982 Syktyvkar, Russia

    • Vladimir Elsakov


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M.E.R. and P.J.M. designed the study. M.E.R., S.S., S.E.L., S.J., V.E., C.B. and T.V. contributed to data collection and processing. M.E.R., C.B. and P.J.M. were mainly responsible for writing the manuscript. All authors participated in interpreting the results and writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Pertti J. Martikainen.

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