Climate-sensitive northern lakes and ponds are critical components of methane release


Lakes and ponds represent one of the largest natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane. By surface area, almost half of these waters are located in the boreal region and northwards. A synthesis of measurements of methane emissions from 733 lakes and ponds north of ∼50° N, combined with new inventories of inland waters, reveals that emissions from these high latitudes amount to around 16.5 Tg CH4 yr−1 (12.4 Tg CH4-C yr−1). This estimate — from lakes and ponds alone — is equivalent to roughly two-thirds of the inverse model calculation of all natural methane sources in the region. Thermokarst water bodies have received attention for their high emission rates, but we find that post-glacial lakes are a larger regional source due to their larger areal extent. Water body depth, sediment type and ecoclimatic region are also important in explaining variation in methane fluxes. Depending on whether warming and permafrost thaw cause expansion or contraction of lake and pond areal coverage, we estimate that annual water body emissions will increase by 20–54% before the end of the century if ice-free seasons are extended by 20 days. We conclude that lakes and ponds are a dominant methane source at high northern latitudes.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Nature Geoscience


Springer Nature

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