Study says Arctic lakes producing less carbon than expected

Northeast Alaska’s Yukon Flats region, seen with fall colors. David Butman/University of Washington

New research conducted by students and an associate professor from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences has found that Arctic lakes are giving off less carbon than expected.

The study, published online Feb. 11 in the journal Nature Geoscience, from the University of Washington and U.S. Geological Survey suggests many Arctic-region lakes pose little threat to global carbon levels, at least for now. In the Arctic’s flat, arid regions dotted with thousands of lakes, many of these bodies of water are functioning like self-contained units, not releasing much carbon dioxide.

This is an important finding because the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. One consequence of that trend is the thawing of permafrost, a layer of earth that has remained frozen for thousands of years in some areas. This frozen soil and vegetation currently holds more than twice the carbon found in the atmosphere.

As permafrost across northern Alaska, Canada, Siberia and other high-latitude regions thaws, microbes in the soil consume organic materials, releasing carbon dioxide or methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, into lakes and the atmosphere.

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