Queen's University

Short-term impacts of active layer detachments on carbon exchange in a High Arctic ecosystem, Cape Bounty, Nunavut, Canada

Diagram of the Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory, Melville Island, Nunavut. Project by Queen's University researcher Dr. Neal Scott  Localized permafrost disturbances such as active layer detachments (ALDs) are increasing in frequency and severity across the Canadian Arctic impacting terrestrial ecosystem functioning. However, the contribution of permafrost disturbance-carbon feedbacks to the carbon (C) balance of Arctic ecosystems is poorly understood. Here, we explore the short-term impact of active layer detachments (ALDs) on carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange in a High Arctic semi-desert ecosystem by comparing midday C exchange between undisturbed areas, moderately disturbed areas (intact islands of vegetation within an ALD), and highly disturbed areas (non-vegetated areas due to ALD). Midday C exchange was measured using a static chamber method between June 23 and August 8 during the 2009 and 2010 growing seasons. Results show that areas of high disturbance had significantly reduced gross ecosystem exchange and ecosystem respiration (R E) compared to control and moderately disturbed areas. Moderately disturbed areas showed significantly enhanced net ecosystem exchange compared to areas of high disturbance, but were not significantly different from control areas. Disturbance did not significantly impact soil thermal, physical or chemical properties. According to average midday fluxes, ALDs as a whole (moderately disturbed areas: −1.942 μmol m−2 s−1+ highly disturbed areas: 2.969 μmol m−2 s−1) were a small CO2 source of 1.027 μmol m−2 s−1 which did not differ significantly from average midday fluxes in control areas 1.219 μmol m−2 s−1. The findings of this study provide evidence that the short-term impacts of ALDs on midday, net C exchange and soil properties in a High Arctic semi-desert are minimal. (Read More)