The new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (CHARS)
By Leslie Lee, Texas A&M University College of Geosciences
Lying quietly at the top of the world, the Arctic tundra’s ancient frozen soils store enormous amounts of carbon. These uniquely important landscapes have thick, peat soil horizons and are vulnerable to warming temperatures.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently funded a new research project examining these systems and whether expanding peatlands may provide a “sink” for some of the carbon lost as permafrost thaws, and Texas A&M University Department of Geography Assistant Professor Dr. Julie Loisel will lead a team from Texas A&M conducting a portion of the research in far northern Canada.
“This new project will look at how Arctic soils have been responding to warmer temperatures,” Loisel said. “We know that vegetation has been growing faster due to warmer and longer growing seasons across most of the Arctic — a phenomenon referred to as “greening” — but we don’t know how, or if, this increase in biomass transfers to soils.”
Titled “Peat expansion in Arctic tundra: Pattern, process, and the implication for the carbon cycle,” the project’s additional teams will be led by: Dr. Zicheng Yu, Lehigh University; Dr. Philip Camill, Bowdoin College; Dr. Steve Frolking, University New Hampshire; and Qianlai Zhuang, Purdue University.
The Texas A&M team will be based at the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.
“Our main goal is to gather meteorological, ecological and paleoecological data to look into the relationships between air and soil temperatures vs. rates of carbon sequestration in soils from the eastern half of Victoria Island and the Bathurst Inlet region,” Loisel said.
The research has major implications: if shallow peatlands are widespread throughout the Arctic, the overall net carbon storage capacity of tundra might be underestimated globally. This research will assess those implications for global climate models.
It will also be addressing one of NSF’s “Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments,” — navigating the new Arctic.