Permafrost collapse after shrub removal shifts tundra ecosystem to a methane source

A.L. Nauta, M.M.P.D. Heijmans, D. Blok, J. Limpens, B. Elberling, A. Gallagher, B. Li, R.E. Petrov, T.C. Maximov, J. van Huissteden, F. Berendse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Arctic tundra ecosystems are warming almost twice as fast as the global average1. Permafrost thaw and the resulting release of greenhouse gases from decomposing soil organic carbon have the potential to accelerate climate warming2, 3. In recent decades, Arctic tundra ecosystems have changed rapidly4, including expansion of woody vegetation5, 6, in response to changing climate conditions. How such vegetation changes contribute to stabilization or destabilization of the permafrost is unknown. Here we present six years of field observations in a shrub removal experiment at a Siberian tundra site. Removing the shrub part of the vegetation initiated thawing of ice-rich permafrost, resulting in collapse of the originally elevated shrub patches into waterlogged depressions within five years. This thaw pond development shifted the plots from a methane sink into a methane source. The results of our field experiment demonstrate the importance of the vegetation cover for protection of the massive carbon reservoirs stored in the permafrost and illustrate the strong vulnerability of these tundra ecosystems to perturbations. If permafrost thawing can more frequently trigger such local permafrost collapse, methane-emitting wet depressions could become more abundant in the lowland tundra landscape, at the cost of permafrost-stabilizing low shrub vegetation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-70
JournalNature Climate Change
Volume5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Fingerprint

Arctic
tundra
permafrost
shrub
methane
climate
ecosystem
experiment
stabilization
vulnerability
thawing
vegetation
removal experiment
removal
climate conditions
vegetation cover
greenhouse gas
warming
pond
organic carbon

Keywords

  • climate-change
  • arctic tundra
  • alaska
  • thaw
  • expansion
  • ice

Cite this

Nauta, A.L. ; Heijmans, M.M.P.D. ; Blok, D. ; Limpens, J. ; Elberling, B. ; Gallagher, A. ; Li, B. ; Petrov, R.E. ; Maximov, T.C. ; van Huissteden, J. ; Berendse, F. / Permafrost collapse after shrub removal shifts tundra ecosystem to a methane source. In: Nature Climate Change. 2015 ; Vol. 5. pp. 67-70.
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abstract = "Arctic tundra ecosystems are warming almost twice as fast as the global average1. Permafrost thaw and the resulting release of greenhouse gases from decomposing soil organic carbon have the potential to accelerate climate warming2, 3. In recent decades, Arctic tundra ecosystems have changed rapidly4, including expansion of woody vegetation5, 6, in response to changing climate conditions. How such vegetation changes contribute to stabilization or destabilization of the permafrost is unknown. Here we present six years of field observations in a shrub removal experiment at a Siberian tundra site. Removing the shrub part of the vegetation initiated thawing of ice-rich permafrost, resulting in collapse of the originally elevated shrub patches into waterlogged depressions within five years. This thaw pond development shifted the plots from a methane sink into a methane source. The results of our field experiment demonstrate the importance of the vegetation cover for protection of the massive carbon reservoirs stored in the permafrost and illustrate the strong vulnerability of these tundra ecosystems to perturbations. If permafrost thawing can more frequently trigger such local permafrost collapse, methane-emitting wet depressions could become more abundant in the lowland tundra landscape, at the cost of permafrost-stabilizing low shrub vegetation.",
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Nauta, AL, Heijmans, MMPD, Blok, D, Limpens, J, Elberling, B, Gallagher, A, Li, B, Petrov, RE, Maximov, TC, van Huissteden, J & Berendse, F 2015, 'Permafrost collapse after shrub removal shifts tundra ecosystem to a methane source', Nature Climate Change, vol. 5, pp. 67-70. https://doi.org/10.1038/NCLIMATE2446

Permafrost collapse after shrub removal shifts tundra ecosystem to a methane source. / Nauta, A.L.; Heijmans, M.M.P.D.; Blok, D.; Limpens, J.; Elberling, B.; Gallagher, A.; Li, B.; Petrov, R.E.; Maximov, T.C.; van Huissteden, J.; Berendse, F.

In: Nature Climate Change, Vol. 5, 2015, p. 67-70.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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AU - Nauta, A.L.

AU - Heijmans, M.M.P.D.

AU - Blok, D.

AU - Limpens, J.

AU - Elberling, B.

AU - Gallagher, A.

AU - Li, B.

AU - Petrov, R.E.

AU - Maximov, T.C.

AU - van Huissteden, J.

AU - Berendse, F.

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N2 - Arctic tundra ecosystems are warming almost twice as fast as the global average1. Permafrost thaw and the resulting release of greenhouse gases from decomposing soil organic carbon have the potential to accelerate climate warming2, 3. In recent decades, Arctic tundra ecosystems have changed rapidly4, including expansion of woody vegetation5, 6, in response to changing climate conditions. How such vegetation changes contribute to stabilization or destabilization of the permafrost is unknown. Here we present six years of field observations in a shrub removal experiment at a Siberian tundra site. Removing the shrub part of the vegetation initiated thawing of ice-rich permafrost, resulting in collapse of the originally elevated shrub patches into waterlogged depressions within five years. This thaw pond development shifted the plots from a methane sink into a methane source. The results of our field experiment demonstrate the importance of the vegetation cover for protection of the massive carbon reservoirs stored in the permafrost and illustrate the strong vulnerability of these tundra ecosystems to perturbations. If permafrost thawing can more frequently trigger such local permafrost collapse, methane-emitting wet depressions could become more abundant in the lowland tundra landscape, at the cost of permafrost-stabilizing low shrub vegetation.

AB - Arctic tundra ecosystems are warming almost twice as fast as the global average1. Permafrost thaw and the resulting release of greenhouse gases from decomposing soil organic carbon have the potential to accelerate climate warming2, 3. In recent decades, Arctic tundra ecosystems have changed rapidly4, including expansion of woody vegetation5, 6, in response to changing climate conditions. How such vegetation changes contribute to stabilization or destabilization of the permafrost is unknown. Here we present six years of field observations in a shrub removal experiment at a Siberian tundra site. Removing the shrub part of the vegetation initiated thawing of ice-rich permafrost, resulting in collapse of the originally elevated shrub patches into waterlogged depressions within five years. This thaw pond development shifted the plots from a methane sink into a methane source. The results of our field experiment demonstrate the importance of the vegetation cover for protection of the massive carbon reservoirs stored in the permafrost and illustrate the strong vulnerability of these tundra ecosystems to perturbations. If permafrost thawing can more frequently trigger such local permafrost collapse, methane-emitting wet depressions could become more abundant in the lowland tundra landscape, at the cost of permafrost-stabilizing low shrub vegetation.

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KW - alaska

KW - thaw

KW - expansion

KW - ice

U2 - 10.1038/NCLIMATE2446

DO - 10.1038/NCLIMATE2446

M3 - Article

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JO - Nature Climate Change

JF - Nature Climate Change

SN - 1758-678X

ER -