The uncertain climate footprint of wetlands under human pressure.
ABSTRACT: Significant climate risks are associated with a positive carbon-temperature feedback in northern latitude carbon-rich ecosystems, making an accurate analysis of human impacts on the net greenhouse gas balance of wetlands a priority. Here, we provide a coherent assessment of the climate footprint of a network of wetland sites based on simultaneous and quasi-continuous ecosystem observations of CO2 and CH4 fluxes. Experimental areas are located both in natural and in managed wetlands and cover a wide range of climatic regions, ecosystem types, and management practices. Based on direct observations we predict that sustained CH4 emissions in natural ecosystems are in the long term (i.e., several centuries) typically offset by CO2 uptake, although with large spatiotemporal variability. Using a space-for-time analogy across ecological and climatic gradients, we represent the chronosequence from natural to managed conditions to quantify the "cost" of CH4 emissions for the benefit of net carbon sequestration. With a sustained pulse-response radiative forcing model, we found a significant increase in atmospheric forcing due to land management, in particular for wetland converted to cropland. Our results quantify the role of human activities on the climate footprint of northern wetlands and call for development of active mitigation strategies for managed wetlands and new guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accounting for both sustained CH4 emissions and cumulative CO2 exchange.
Project description:Wetland methane (CH4) emissions are the largest natural source in the global CH4 budget, contributing to roughly one third of total natural and anthropogenic emissions. As the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after CO2, CH4 is strongly associated with climate feedbacks. However, due to the paucity of data, wetland CH4 feedbacks were not fully assessed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report. The degree to which future expansion of wetlands and CH4 emissions will evolve and consequently drive climate feedbacks is thus a question of major concern. Here we present an ensemble estimate of wetland CH4 emissions driven by 38 general circulation models for the 21st century. We find that climate change-induced increases in boreal wetland extent and temperature-driven increases in tropical CH4 emissions will dominate anthropogenic CH4 emissions by 38 to 56% toward the end of the 21st century under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP2.6). Depending on scenarios, wetland CH4 feedbacks translate to an increase in additional global mean radiative forcing of 0.04 W·m-2 to 0.19 W·m-2 by the end of the 21st century. Under the "worst-case" RCP8.5 scenario, with no climate mitigation, boreal CH4 emissions are enhanced by 18.05 Tg to 41.69 Tg, due to thawing of inundated areas during the cold season (December to May) and rising temperature, while tropical CH4 emissions accelerate with a total increment of 48.36 Tg to 87.37 Tg by 2099. Our results suggest that climate mitigation policies must consider mitigation of wetland CH4 feedbacks to maintain average global warming below 2 °C.
Project description:Global management of wetlands to suppress greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, facilitate carbon (C) sequestration, and reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations while simultaneously promoting agricultural gains is paramount. However, studies that relate variability in CO2 and CH4 emissions at large spatial scales are limited. We investigated three-year emissions of soil CO2 and CH4 from the primary wetland types of the Liaohe Delta, China, by focusing on a total wetland area of 3287 km2. One percent is Suaeda salsa, 24% is Phragmites australis, and 75% is rice. While S. salsa wetlands are under somewhat natural tidal influence, P. australis and rice are managed hydrologically for paper and food, respectively. Total C emissions from CO2 and CH4 from these wetland soils were 2.9 Tg C/year, ranging from 2.5 to 3.3 Tg C/year depending on the year assessed. Primary emissions were from CO2 (~98%). Photosynthetic uptake of CO2 would mitigate most of the soil CO2 emissions, but CH4 emissions would persist. Overall, CH4 fluxes were high when soil temperatures were >18°C and pore water salinity <18 PSU. CH4 emissions from rice habitat alone in the Liaohe Delta represent 0.2% of CH4 carbon emissions globally from rice. With such a large area and interannual sensitivity in soil GHG fluxes, management practices in the Delta and similar wetlands around the world have the potential not only to influence local C budgeting, but also to influence global biogeochemical cycling.
Project description:Wetlands are a major source of methane (CH4) and contribute between 30 and 40% to the total CH4 emissions. Wetland CH4 emissions depend on temperature, water table depth, and both the quantity and quality of organic matter. Global warming will affect these three drivers of methanogenesis, raising questions about the feedbacks between natural methane production and climate change. Until present the large-scale response of wetland CH4 emissions to climate has been investigated with land-surface models that have produced contrasting results. Here, we produce a novel global estimate of wetland methane emissions based on atmospheric inverse modeling of CH4 fluxes and observed temperature and precipitation. Our data-driven model suggests that by 2100, current emissions may increase by 50% to 80%, which is within the range of 50% and 150% reported in previous studies. This finding highlights the importance of limiting global warming below 2°C to avoid substantial climate feedbacks driven by methane emissions from natural wetlands.
Project description:There is a growing interest in how the management of 'blue carbon' sequestered by coastal wetlands can influence global greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets. A promising intervention is through restoring tidal exchange to impounded coastal wetlands for reduced methane (CH4) emissions. We monitored an impounded wetland's GHG flux (CO2 and CH4) prior to and following tidal reinstatement. We found that biogeochemical responses varied across an elevation gradient. The low elevation zone experienced a greater increase in water level and an associated greater marine transition in the sediment microbial community (16?S rRNA) than the high elevation zone. The low elevation zone's GHG emissions had a reduced sustained global warming potential of 264?g?m-2 yr-1 CO2-e over 100 years, and it increased to 351?g?m-2 yr-1 with the removal of extreme rain events. However, emission benefits were achieved through a reduction in CO2 emissions, not CH4 emissions. Overall, the wetland shifted from a prior CH4 sink (-0.07 to -1.74?g?C m-2 yr-1) to a variable sink or source depending on the elevation site and rainfall. This highlights the need to consider a wetland's initial GHG emissions, elevation and future rainfall trends when assessing the efficacy of tidal reinstatement for GHG emission control.
Project description:Wetlands are thought to be the major contributor to interannual variability in the growth rate of atmospheric methane (CH4) with anomalies driven by the influence of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Yet it remains unclear whether (i) the increase in total global CH4 emissions during El Niño versus La Niña events is from wetlands and (ii) how large the contribution of wetland CH4 emissions is to the interannual variability of atmospheric CH4. We used a terrestrial ecosystem model that includes permafrost and wetland dynamics to estimate CH4 emissions, forced by three separate meteorological reanalyses and one gridded observational climate dataset, to simulate the spatio-temporal dynamics of wetland CH4 emissions from 1980-2016. The simulations show that while wetland CH4 responds with negative annual anomalies during the El Niño events, the instantaneous growth rate of wetland CH4 emissions exhibits complex phase dynamics. We find that wetland CH4 instantaneous growth rates were declined at the onset of the 2015-2016 El Niño event but then increased to a record-high at later stages of the El Niño event (January through May 2016). We also find evidence for a step increase of CH4 emissions by 7.8±1.6 Tg CH4 yr-1 during 2007-2014 compared to the average of 2000-2006 from simulations using meteorological reanalyses, which is equivalent to a ~3.5 ppb yr-1 rise in CH4 concentrations. The step increase is mainly caused by the expansion of wetland area in the tropics (30°S-30°N) due to an enhancement of tropical precipitation as indicated by the suite of the meteorological reanalyses. Our study highlights the role of wetlands, and the complex temporal phasing with ENSO, in driving the variability and trends of atmospheric CH4 concentrations. In addition, the need to account for uncertainty in meteorological forcings is highlighted in addressing the interannual variability and decadal-scale trends of wetland CH4 fluxes.
Project description:Peatlands are strategic areas for climate change mitigation because of their matchless carbon stocks. Drained peatlands release this carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2). Peatland rewetting effectively stops these CO2 emissions, but also re-establishes the emission of methane (CH4). Essentially, management must choose between CO2 emissions from drained, or CH4 emissions from rewetted, peatland. This choice must consider radiative effects and atmospheric lifetimes of both gases, with CO2 being a weak but persistent, and CH4 a strong but short-lived, greenhouse gas. The resulting climatic effects are, thus, strongly time-dependent. We used a radiative forcing model to compare forcing dynamics of global scenarios for future peatland management using areal data from the Global Peatland Database. Our results show that CH4 radiative forcing does not undermine the climate change mitigation potential of peatland rewetting. Instead, postponing rewetting increases the long-term warming effect through continued CO2 emissions.
Project description:Both anthropogenic activities and climate change can affect the biogeochemical processes of natural wetland methanogenesis. Quantifying possible impacts of changing climate and wetland area on wetland methane (CH4) emissions in China is important for improving our knowledge on CH4 budgets locally and globally. However, their respective and combined effects are uncertain. We incorporated changes in wetland area derived from remote sensing into a dynamic CH4 model to quantify the human and climate change induced contributions to natural wetland CH4 emissions in China over the past three decades. Here we found that human-induced wetland loss contributed 34.3% to the CH4 emissions reduction (0.92 TgCH4), and climate change contributed 20.4% to the CH4 emissions increase (0.31 TgCH4), suggesting that decreasing CH4 emissions due to human-induced wetland reductions has offset the increasing climate-driven CH4 emissions. With climate change only, temperature was a dominant controlling factor for wetland CH4 emissions in the northeast (high latitude) and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (high altitude) regions, whereas precipitation had a considerable influence in relative arid north China. The inevitable uncertainties caused by the asynchronous for different regions or periods due to inter-annual or seasonal variations among remote sensing images should be considered in the wetland CH4 emissions estimation.
Project description:We propose a transparent climate debt index incorporating both methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. We develop national historic emissions databases for both greenhouse gases to 2005, justifying 1950 as the starting point for global perspectives. We include CO2 emissions from fossil sources [CO2(f)], as well as, in a separate analysis, land use change and forestry. We calculate the CO2(f) and CH4 remaining in the atmosphere in 2005 from 205 countries using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report impulse response functions. We use these calculations to estimate the fraction of remaining global emissions due to each country, which is applied to total radiative forcing in 2005 to determine the combined climate debt from both greenhouse gases in units of milliwatts per square meter per country or microwatts per square meter per person, a metric we term international natural debt (IND). Australia becomes the most indebted large country per capita because of high CH4 emissions, overtaking the United States, which is highest for CO2(f). The differences between the INDs of developing and developed countries decline but remain large. We use IND to assess the relative reduction in IND from choosing between CO2(f) and CH4`control measures and to contrast the imposed versus experienced health impacts from climate change. Based on 2005 emissions, the same hypothetical impact on world 2050 IND could be achieved by decreasing CH4 emissions by 46% as stopping CO2 emissions entirely, but with substantial differences among countries, implying differential optimal strategies. Adding CH4 shifts the basic narrative about differential international accountability for climate change.
Project description:Blue carbon (C) ecosystems are among the most effective C sinks of the biosphere, but methane (CH4) emissions can offset their climate cooling effect. Drivers of CH4 emissions from blue C ecosystems and effects of global change are poorly understood. Here we test for the effects of sea level rise (SLR) and its interactions with elevated atmospheric CO2, eutrophication, and plant community composition on CH4 emissions from an estuarine tidal wetland. Changes in CH4 emissions with SLR are primarily mediated by shifts in plant community composition and associated plant traits that determine both the direction and magnitude of SLR effects on CH4 emissions. We furthermore show strong stimulation of CH4 emissions by elevated atmospheric CO2, whereas effects of eutrophication are not significant. Overall, our findings demonstrate a high sensitivity of CH4 emissions to global change with important implications for modeling greenhouse-gas dynamics of blue C ecosystems.
Project description:Arctic terrestrial ecosystems are major global sources of methane (CH4); hence, it is important to understand the seasonal and climatic controls on CH4 emissions from these systems. Here, we report year-round CH4 emissions from Alaskan Arctic tundra eddy flux sites and regional fluxes derived from aircraft data. We find that emissions during the cold season (September to May) account for ≥ 50% of the annual CH4 flux, with the highest emissions from noninundated upland tundra. A major fraction of cold season emissions occur during the "zero curtain" period, when subsurface soil temperatures are poised near 0 °C. The zero curtain may persist longer than the growing season, and CH4 emissions are enhanced when the duration is extended by a deep thawed layer as can occur with thick snow cover. Regional scale fluxes of CH4 derived from aircraft data demonstrate the large spatial extent of late season CH4 emissions. Scaled to the circumpolar Arctic, cold season fluxes from tundra total 12 ± 5 (95% confidence interval) Tg CH4 y(-1), ∼ 25% of global emissions from extratropical wetlands, or ∼ 6% of total global wetland methane emissions. The dominance of late-season emissions, sensitivity to soil environmental conditions, and importance of dry tundra are not currently simulated in most global climate models. Because Arctic warming disproportionally impacts the cold season, our results suggest that higher cold-season CH4 emissions will result from observed and predicted increases in snow thickness, active layer depth, and soil temperature, representing important positive feedbacks on climate warming.