More than methane: quantifying melt-driven biogas production and nutrient export from Eurasian Arctic lowland permafrost
LowPerm provided further evidence that our understanding of methane emissions from surface and sub-surface permafrost sources must improve if we are to work out how best to prevent dangerous increases in greenhouse gas emissions throughout the rest of the 21st century. LowPerm was important for society’s perception of climate change feedbacks because it demonstrated that there are complex and variable natural emission sources in remote parts of our planet which are controlled by unstoppable processes that began at the end of the last ice age. This is why our own, far greater emissions of greenhouse gases urgently need better management: because they are easier to quantify and then control.
Today’s greenhouse gas emission hotspots in Arctic fjord coastlinesinclude sediments uplifted from the sea floor after the retreat of the great ice sheets began 10000 years ago.
The uplift caused the marine sedimentsto freeze, trapping lots of methane underneath. The escape of this methane to the atmosphere requires inclusion in emission estimates, because it is sensitive to climate change.
Micro-organisms such as bacteria and archaeacontrol the production of methane in the summer thaw layer and beneath the permafrost. They also reduce methane emissions by either consuming it or by using iron and sulphur as alternative energy sources.
My name is Andrew Hodson, Professor (PhD). I am a polar scientist living in Svalbard, Norway and studying the complex relationships between glaciers, permafrost and the effects of thaw upon the microorganisms that live in them. My motivation for the project came from the opportunity to demonstrate how understanding the net release of greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost demands an appreciation of the connections
between the glaciers, the permafrost and the sea.
Sheffield University was leading the LowPerm Project, also responsible for the geochemical analysis of the sediment cores. The University Centre in Svalbard, Norway, provided the expertise on permafrost physical characteristics and dissemination. University of Aarhus, Denmark, was responsible for the microbiological research conducted at Aarhus. Høgskulen På Vestlandet, Sogndal, Norway, helped with the field work and geochemical analysis of summer runoff. The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia, was
responsible for operations at Russian field sites.
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