The role of environmental driving factors in historical and projected carbon dynamics of wetland ecosystems in Alaska

Wetlands are critical terrestrial ecosystems in Alaska, covering ~177,000 km2, an area greater than all the wetlands in the remainder of the United States. To assess the relative influence of changing climate, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration, and fire regime on carbon balance in wetland ecosystems of Alaska, a modeling framework that incorporates a fire disturbance model and two biogeochemical models was used. Spatially explicit simulations were conducted at 1-km resolution for the historical period (1950-2009) and future projection period (2010-2099). Simulations estimated that wetland ecosystems of Alaska lost 175 Tg carbon (C) in the historical period. Ecosystem C storage in 2009 was 5,556 Tg, with 89% of the C stored in soils. The estimated loss of C as CO2 and biogenic methane (CH4) emissions resulted in wetlands of Alaska increasing the greenhouse gas forcing of climate warming. Simulations for the projection period were conducted for six climate change scenarios constructed from two climate models forced under three CO2 emission scenarios. Ecosystem C storage averaged among climate scenarios increased 3.94 Tg C/yr by 2099, with variability among the simulations ranging from 2.02 to 4.42 Tg C/yr. These increases were driven primarily by increases in net primary production (NPP) that were greater than losses from increased decomposition and fire. The NPP increase was driven by CO2 fertilization (~5% per 100 parts per million by volume increase) and by increases in air temperature (~1% per°C increase). Increases in air temperature were estimated to be the primary cause for a projected 47.7% mean increase in biogenic CH4 emissions among the simulations (~15% per°C increase). Ecosystem CO2 sequestration offset the increase in CH4 emissions during the 21st century to decrease the greenhouse gas forcing of climate warming. However, beyond 2100, we expect that this forcing will ultimately increase as wetland ecosystems transition from being a sink to a source of atmospheric CO2 because of (1) decreasing sensitivity of NPP to increasing atmospheric CO2, (2) increasing availability of soil C for decomposition as permafrost thaws, and (3) continued positive sensitivity of biogenic CH4 emissions to increases in soil temperature.


Lyu, Z., Genet, H., He, Y., Zhuang, Q., McGuire, A.D., Bennett, A., Breen, A., Clein, J., Euskirchen, E.S., Johnson, K., Kurkowski, T., Pastick, N.J., Rupp, T.S., Wylie, B.K., and Zhu, Z.. 2018. The role of environmental driving factors in historical and projected carbon dynamics of wetland ecosystems in Alaska. Ecological Applications. 28(6): 1377-1395. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1755.