Latitudinal differentiated water table control of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide fluxes from hydromorphic soils: feedbacks to climate change


Hermann F. Jungkunst, tel. +49 551 3912178, fax +49 551 395701, e-mail:


The possibility of carbon (C) being locked away from the atmosphere for millennia is given in hydromorphic soils. However, the water-table-dependent feedback from soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition to the climate system is less clear. At least three greenhouse gases are produced: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). These gases show emission peaks at different water table positions and have different global warming potentials (GWP), for example a factor of 23 for CH4 and 296 for N2O as compared with the equivalent mass of CO2 on a 100-year time horizon. This review of available annual data on all three gases revealed that the radiative forcing effect of SOM decomposition is principally dictated by CO2 despite its low GWP. Anaerobic SOM decomposition generally has a lower potential feedback to the climatic system than aerobic SOM decomposition. Concrete values are constrained by a lack of data from tropical and subarctic regions. Furthermore, data on N2O and on plant effects are generally rare. However, there is a clear latitudinal differentiation for the GWP of soils under anaerobic conditions compared with aerobic conditions when looking at CO2 and CH4: in the tropical and temperate regions, the anaerobic GWP showed a range of 25–60% of the aerobic value, but values varied between 80% and 110% in the boreal zone. Hence, particularly in the vulnerable boreal zone, the feedback from ecosystems to climate change will highly depend on plant responses to changing water tables at elevated temperatures.