Biogeochemistry of billabong sediments. II. Seasonal variations in methane production



1. We examined the temporal (seasonal and diel) and spatial variation in methane flux from sediments of a billabong in south-eastern Australia, and related it to variations in the rate of organic matter decay, concentration of interstitial metabolites, and sediment redox.

2. Total gas ebullition ranged from <2 to >59mlm−2h−1, and was highest in the summer months when water temperatures were >25°C. These rates are equivalent to carbon fluxes of about 16–30gC—CH4m−2yr−1. Ebullition was greater from unvegetated sediments than from sediments colonized by the emergent macrophyte Eleockaris sphacelata, R, Br. or the submerged macrophyte Vallisneria gigantea Graeb. There were no consistent differences in the rate of ebullition over the day and the night.

3. Methane accounted for about 42–45% of total sediment gas in the vegetated sediments, but about 60% in the unvegetated sediments. These ratios did not vary greatly throughout the year. Carbon dioxide was a minor component of sediment gas, usually comprising <5% of the total. Carbon dioxide contents were highest in summer, especially in unvegetated and E. sphacelata beds.

4. In vitro methanogenesis ranged from 3 ± 0.9 to 106 ± 30 nmol g(dry weight)−1 h−1, being highest in summer and lowest in winter. Added acetate (5mM) increased the rate of methanogenesis by up to 10-fold, with the effect being greater in summer than winter. Generally, added acetate had least effect in E. sphacelata sediments. The maximum rate of in vitro methanogenesis with added acetate was 243 ± 57 nmolg(dry weight)−1 h−1.

5. Ebullition was highly correlated with the rate of in vitro methanogenesis, with a rime lag of about 4 weeks. About 35–60% of benthic in vitro methanogenesis could be accounted for by ebullitive loss: the remainder was presumably lost via diffusion, flux through emergent plants or by oxidation. The rate of organic-matter degradation, assessed with amylopectin azure, varied throughout the year, but there was no clear relationship between ebullition and organic-matter decay.

6. Concentrations of interstitial ammonium, which also varied seasonally, ranged from 1 ± 0.2 to 13 ± 1 mgNl−1. There was no clear relationship between ebullition rates and ammonium concentrations, Redox potential was most positive in the E. sphacelata sediments, but there was little consistent difference in the redox potential of V. gigantea and unvegetated sediments. Redox potential appeared not to be a controlling factor in methane release.