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Process-level controls on CO2 fluxes from a seasonally snow-covered subalpine meadow soil, Niwot Ridge, Colorado

  • Author(s): Liptzin, Daniel
  • Williams, Mark W.
  • Helmig, Detlev
  • Seok, Brian
  • Filippa, Gianluca
  • Chowanski, Kurt
  • Hueber, Jacques
  • et al.

Fluxes of CO2 during the snow-covered season contribute to annual carbon budgets, but our understanding of the mechanisms controlling the seasonal pattern and magnitude of carbon emissions in seasonally snow-covered areas is still developing. In a subalpine meadow on Niwot Ridge, Colorado, soil CO2 fluxes were quantified with the gradient method through the snowpack in winter 2006 and 2007 and with chamber measurements during summer 2007. The CO2 fluxes of 0.71 μmol m−2 s−1 in 2006 and 0.86 μmol m−2 s−1 in 2007 are among the highest reported for snow-covered ecosystems in the literature. These fluxes resulted in 156 and 189 g C m−2 emitted over the winter, ~30% of the annual soil CO2 efflux at this site. In general, the CO2 flux increased during the winter as soil moisture increased. A conceptual model was developed with distinct snow cover zones to describe this as well as the three other reported temporal patterns in CO2 flux from seasonally snow-covered soils. As snow depth and duration increase, the factor controlling the CO2 flux shifts from freeze–thaw cycles (zone I) to soil temperature (zone II) to soil moisture (zone III) to carbon availability (zone IV). The temporal pattern in CO2 flux in each zone changes from periodic pulses of CO2 during thaw events (zone I), to CO2 fluxes reaching a minimum when soil temperatures are lowest in mid-winter (zone II), to CO2 fluxes increasing gradually as soil moisture increases (zone III), to CO2 fluxes decreasing as available carbon is consumed. This model predicts that interannual variability in snow cover or directional shifts in climate may result in dramatically different seasonal patterns of CO2 flux from seasonally snow-covered soils.

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