Atmosphere-soil-stream greenhouse gas fluxes from peatlands
Dinsmore, Kerry J.
Peatlands cover approximately 2-3% of the world’s land area yet represent approximately a third of the worlds estimated total soil carbon pool. They therefore play an important role in regulating global atmospheric CO2 and CH4 concentrations, and even minor changes in their ability to store carbon could potentially have significant effects on global climate change. Much previous research has focussed primarily on land-atmosphere fluxes. Where aquatic fluxes have been considered, they are often in isolation from the rest of the catchment and usually focus on downstream losses, ignoring evasion (degassing) from the water surface. However, as peatland streams have been repeatedly shown to be highly supersaturated in both CO2 and CH4 with respect to the atmosphere, they potentially represent an important pathway for catchment GHG losses. This study aimed to a) create a complete GHG and carbon budget for Auchencorth Moss catchment, Scotland, linking both terrestrial and aquatic fluxes, and b) understand what controls and drives individual fluxes within this budget. This understanding was further developed by a short study of C exchange at the peat-aquatic interface at Mer Bleue peatland, Canada. Significant variability in soil-atmosphere fluxes of both CH4 and N2O emissions was evident at Auchencorth Moss; coefficients of variation across 21 field chambers were 300% and 410% for CH4 and N2O, respectively. Both in situ chamber measurements and a separate mesocosm study illustrated the importance of vegetation in controlling CH4 emissions. In contrast to many previous studies, CH4 emissions were lower and uptake greater where aerenchymous vegetation was present. Water table depth was also an important driver of variability in CH4 emissions, although the effect was only evident during either periods of extreme drawdown or when the water table was consistently near or above the peat surface. Significant pulses in both CH4 and N2O emissions were observed in response to fluctuations in water table depth. Despite the variability in CH4 and N2O emissions and the uncertainty in up-scaled estimates, their contribution to the total GHG and carbon budgets was minor. Concentrations of dissolved CO2 in peatland drainage waters ranged from a mean of 2.88 ± 0.09 mg C L-1 in the Black Burn, Scotland, to a mean of 7.64 ± 0.80 mg C L-1 in water draining Mer Bleue, Canada. Using non-dispersive infra-red (NDIR) CO2 sensors with a 10-minute measurement frequency, significant temporal variability was observed in aquatic CO2 concentrations at the 2 contrasting field sites. However, the drivers of this variability differed significantly. At Mer Bleue, Canada, biological activity in the water column led to clear diurnal cycles, whereas in the Black Burn draining Auchencorth Moss, dilution due to discharge was the primary driver. The NDIR sensor data also showed differences in soil-stream connectivity both between the sites (connectivity was weak at Mer Bleue) and across the range of conditions measured at Auchencorth Moss i.e. connectivity increased during periods of stormflow. Compiling the results from both the terrestrial and aquatic systems at Auchencorth Moss indicated that the catchment was functioning as a net sink for GHGs (382 kg CO2-eq ha-1 yr-1) and a net source of carbon (143 kg C ha-1 yr-1). The greatest flux of GHGs was via net ecosystem exchange (NEE). Terrestrial emissions of CH4 and N2O combined returned only ~5% of CO2-equivalents captured by NEE to the atmosphere, whereas evasion of CO2, CH4 and N2O from the stream surface returned ~40%. The budgets clearly show the importance of aquatic fluxes at Auchencorth Moss and highlight the potential for significant error in source/sink strength calculations if they are omitted. Furthermore, the process based understanding of soil-stream connectivity suggests the aquatic flux pathway may play an increasingly important role in the source-sink function of peatlands under future management and climate change scenarios.