Since the start of the Anthropocene, northern seasonally frozen peatlands have been warming at a rate of 0.6 °C per decade, twice that of the Earth’s average rate, thereby triggering increased nitrogen mineralization with subsequent potentially large losses of nitrous oxide (N2O) to the atmosphere. Here we provide evidence that seasonally frozen peatlands are important N2O emission sources in the Northern Hemisphere and the thawing periods are the hot moment of annual N2O emissions. The flux during the hot moment of thawing in spring was 1.20 ± 0.82 mg N2O m−2 d−1, significantly higher than that during the other periods (freezing, −0.12 ± 0.02 mg N2O m−2 d−1; frozen, 0.04 ± 0.04 mg N2O m−2 d−1; thawed, 0.09 ± 0.01 mg N2O m−2 d−1) or observed for other ecosystems at the same latitude in previous studies. The observed emission flux is even higher than those of tropical forests, the World’s largest natural terrestrial N2O source. Furthermore, based on soil incubation with 15N and 18O isotope tracing and differential inhibitors, heterotrophic bacterial and fungal denitrification was revealed as the main source of N2O in peatland profiles (0–200 cm). Metagenomic, metatranscriptomic, and qPCR assays further revealed that seasonally frozen peatlands have high N2O emission potential, but thawing significantly stimulates expression of genes encoding N2O-producing protein complexes (hydroxylamine dehydrogenase (hao) and nitric oxide reductase (nor)), resulting in high N2O emissions during spring. This hot moment converts seasonally frozen peatlands into an important N2O emission source when it is otherwise a sink. Extrapolation of our data to all northern peatland areas reveals that the hot moment emissions could amount to approximately 0.17 Tg of N2O yr−1. However, these N2O emissions are still not routinely included in Earth system models and global IPCC assessments.
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The metagenomic data and the metatranscriptomic data were deposited in the NCBI Sequence Read Archive under accession numbers SAMN26424243–SAMN26424272 and SRR14251110–SRR14251136, respectively.
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The authors would like to thank Mr. Dachun Zhu, Mr. Bangrui Lan, Mr. Longbin Yu, Mr. Shiguang Liu, Mr. Yuantao Wang, Mr. Libo Sun, and Miss. Gawhar Armanbek for sampling peatland soil cores in Antu. This research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 91851204 and 92251304), Local Innovative and Research Teams Project of Guangdong Pearl River Talents Program (2017BT01Z176), National Key R&D Program (2016YFA0602303), and special fund from the State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control (Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences) (18Z02ESPCR). The author GZ gratefully acknowledges the Program of the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Wang, X., Wang, S., Yang, Y. et al. Hot moment of N2O emissions in seasonally frozen peatlands. ISME J 17, 792–802 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-023-01389-x