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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Methane transport from the active layer to lakes in the Arctic using Toolik Lake, Alaska, as a case study.


PMID 25775530

Abstract

Methane emissions in the Arctic are important, and may be contributing to global warming. While methane emission rates from Arctic lakes are well documented, methods are needed to quantify the relative contribution of active layer groundwater to the overall lake methane budget. Here we report measurements of natural tracers of soil/groundwater, radon, and radium, along with methane concentration in Toolik Lake, Alaska, to evaluate the role active layer water plays as an exogenous source for lake methane. Average concentrations of methane, radium, and radon were all elevated in the active layer compared with lake water (1.6 × 10(4) nM, 61.6 dpm⋅m(-3), and 4.5 × 10(5) dpm⋅m(-3) compared with 1.3 × 10(2) nM, 5.7 dpm⋅m(-3), and 4.4 × 10(3) dpm⋅m(-3), respectively). Methane transport from the active layer to Toolik Lake based on the geochemical tracer radon (up to 2.9 g⋅m(-2)⋅y(-1)) can account for a large fraction of methane emissions from this lake. Strong but spatially and temporally variable correlations between radon activity and methane concentrations (r(2) > 0.69) in lake water suggest that the parameters that control methane discharge from the active layer also vary. Warming in the Arctic may expand the active layer and increase the discharge, thereby increasing the methane flux to lakes and from lakes to the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. More work is needed to quantify and elucidate the processes that control methane fluxes from the active layer to predict how this flux might change in the future and to evaluate the regional and global contribution of active layer water associated methane inputs.

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