Understanding how high latitude lakes respond to and affect climate change – sciencedaily

To get to Nunavut, turn left at the Dakotas and head north. You can’t miss it – the vast tundra land covers nearly a million square kilometers of northern Canada. Relatively few people live in this lake-strewn landscape, but the region plays a crucial role in understanding global climate change. New research from Soren Brothers, assistant professor in the Department of Watershed Science and Ecology Center, details how Nunavut’s lakes could have a significant impact on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and what isn’t bad news – at least for now. The brothers looked at 23 years of data from lakes near Rankin Inlet. He noted one peculiarity – as the lakes warmed up, their carbon dioxide concentrations decreased. Most lakes are natural sources of carbon dioxide, but most of these lakes were now close to equilibrium with the atmosphere.

It was strange. The expected trend is that warmer temperatures should trigger greater greenhouse gas releases from the lakes. In places like Alaska, centuries of plant matter accumulated in permafrost release a treasure trove of carbon when it melts and is consumed by microbes. Experiments have also shown that when the waters heat up, the production of carbon dioxide by microbes increases faster than the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants, which imbalances the system. Together, these processes are expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions to air from rivers, at least in theory. So why not in Nunavut? There is no doubt that the first step of this Rube Goldberg machine is on … the climate is heating up. Why then are the lakes near Rankin Inlet not spewing carbon?

Putting on some good thick parkas, Brothers and his team visited the lakes and came up with some ideas as to why this is happening. First, they note that much of Nunavut lies on the Canadian Shield – an ancient granite bedrock where thin soils are unlikely to contain – and therefore release – the huge stores of organic matter that enter the waterways. water elsewhere in the Arctic. Second, longer ice-free seasons could alter the chemistry and biology of the water in ways that reduce carbon dioxide concentrations, including longer growing seasons for plants (which absorb carbon dioxide), and potentially better growing conditions for algae at the bottom of these shallow, crystal-clear lakes.

Does this mean that nature has come to the aid of the climate? Probably not – other lakes around the world may further increase carbon dioxide emissions with warming, and the lakes of Nunavut could eventually catch up. More likely, Brothers suggests that the link between the duration of the ice cover and carbon dioxide concentrations could save us time, before stronger positive feedbacks are triggered between warming global warming and its ecosystems. It can be a complicated process, but understanding this complexity helps scientists predict variations in how lakes respond to and influence climate change. It’s a view under the hood, making planetary feedbacks and tipping points a bit more predictable. Although the long-term trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions from the lakes is not established, these findings are an important piece of the puzzle in climate change science.

Source of the story:

Material provided by SJ and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University. Original written by Lael Gilbert. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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