Large CO2 and CH4 emissions from polygonal tundra during spring thaw in northern Alaska



The few prethaw observations of tundra carbon fluxes suggest that there may be large spring releases, but little is known about the scale and underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon. To address these questions, we combined ecosystem eddy flux measurements from two towers near Barrow, Alaska, with mechanistic soil-core thawing experiment. During a 2 week period prior to snowmelt in 2014, large fluxes were measured, reducing net summer uptake of CO2 by 46% and adding 6% to cumulative CH4 emissions. Emission pulses were linked to unique rain-on-snow events enhancing soil cracking. Controlled laboratory experiment revealed that as surface ice thaws, an immediate, large pulse of trapped gases is emitted. These results suggest that the Arctic CO2 and CH4 spring pulse is a delayed release of biogenic gas production from the previous fall and that the pulse can be large enough to offset a significant fraction of the moderate Arctic tundra carbon sink.