Soil incubations reproduce field methane dynamics in a subarctic wetland

Published in Biogeochemistry, 2015

Hodgkins, S. B., Chanton, J. P., Langford, L. C., McCalley, C. K., Saleska, S. R., Rich, V. I., Crill, P. M., & Cooper, W. T. (2015). Soil incubations reproduce field methane dynamics in a subarctic wetland. Biogeochemistry, 126(1), 241–249.

A major challenge in peatland carbon cycle modeling is the estimation of subsurface methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) production and consumption rates and pathways. The most common methods for modeling these processes are soil incubations and stable isotope modeling, both of which may involve departures from field conditions. To explore the impacts of these departures, we measured CH4/CO2 concentration ratios and 13C fractionation factors (αC, indicating CH4 production pathways) in field pore water from a thawing subarctic peatland, and compared these values to those observed in incubations of corresponding peat samples. Incubation CH4/CO2 production ratios were significantly and positively correlated with observed field CH4/CO2 concentration ratios, though observed field ratios were ~20 % of those in incubations due to CH4’s lower solubility in pore water. After correcting the field ratios for CH4 loss with an isotope mass balance model, the incubation CH4/CO2 ratios and αC were both significantly positively correlated with field ratios and αC (respectively), both with slopes indistinguishable from 1. Although CH4/CO2 ratios and αC were slightly higher in the incubations, these shifts were consistent along the thaw progression, indicating that ex situ incubations can replicate trends in in situ CH4 production.