Articles | Volume 7, issue 4
Clim. Past, 7, 1075–1087, 2011
Clim. Past, 7, 1075–1087, 2011

Research article 11 Oct 2011

Research article | 11 Oct 2011

Uncertainties in modelling CH4 emissions from northern wetlands in glacial climates: the role of vegetation parameters

C. Berrittella and J. van Huissteden C. Berrittella and J. van Huissteden
  • Vrije Universiteit, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Hydrology and Geo-Environmental Sciences, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Abstract. Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3) interstadials are marked by a sharp increase in the atmospheric methane (CH4) concentration, as recorded in ice cores. Wetlands are assumed to be the major source of this CH4, although several other hypotheses have been advanced. Modelling of CH4 emissions is crucial to quantify CH4 sources for past climates.

Vegetation effects are generally highly generalized in modelling past and present-day CH4 fluxes, but should not be neglected. Plants strongly affect the soil-atmosphere exchange of CH4 and the net primary production of the vegetation supplies organic matter as substrate for methanogens. For modelling past CH4 fluxes from northern wetlands, assumptions on vegetation are highly relevant since paleobotanical data indicate large differences in Last Glacial (LG) wetland vegetation composition as compared to modern wetland vegetation. Besides more cold-adapted vegetation, Sphagnum mosses appear to be much less dominant during large parts of the LG than at present, which particularly affects CH4 oxidation and transport. To evaluate the effect of vegetation parameters, we used the PEATLAND-VU wetland CO2/CH4 model to simulate emissions from wetlands in continental Europe during LG and modern climates.

We tested the effect of parameters influencing oxidation during plant transport (fox), vegetation net primary production (NPP, parameter symbol Pmax), plant transport rate (Vtransp), maximum rooting depth (Zroot) and root exudation rate (fex). Our model results show that modelled CH4 fluxes are sensitive to fox and Zroot in particular. The effects of Pmax, Vtransp and fex are of lesser relevance. Interactions with water table modelling are significant for Vtransp.

We conducted experiments with different wetland vegetation types for Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3) stadial and interstadial climates and the present-day climate, by coupling PEATLAND-VU to high resolution climate model simulations for Europe. Experiments assuming dominance of one vegetation type (Sphagnum vs. Carex vs. Shrubs) show that Carex-dominated vegetation can increase CH4 emissions by 50% to 78% over Sphagnum-dominated vegetation depending on the modelled climate, while for shrubs this increase ranges from 42% to 72%. Consequently, during the LG northern wetlands may have had CH4 emissions similar to their present-day counterparts, despite a colder climate. Changes in dominant wetland vegetation, therefore, may drive changes in wetland CH4 fluxes, in the past as well as in the future.