Methane Production Controls in a Young Thermokarst Lake Formed by Abrupt Permafrost Thaw

André Pellerin, Noam Lotem, Katey Walter Anthony, Efrat Eliani Russak, Nicholas Hasson, Hans Røy, Jeffrey P Chanton, Orit Sivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Methane (CH4) release to the atmosphere from thawing permafrost contributes significantly to global CH4 emissions. However, constraining the effects of thaw that control the production and emission of CH4 is needed to anticipate future Arctic emissions. Here are presented robust rate measurements of CH4 production and cycling in a region of rapidly degrading permafrost. Big Trail Lake, located in central Alaska, is a young, actively expanding thermokarst lake. The lake was investigated by taking two 1 m cores of sediment from different regions. Two independent methods of measuring microbial CH4 production, long term (CH4 accumulation) and short term (14C tracer), produced similar average rates of 11 ± 3.5 and 9 ± 3.6 nmol cm−3 d−1, respectively. The rates had small variations between the different lithological units, indicating homogeneous CH4 production despite heterogeneous lithology in the surface ~1 m of sediment. To estimate the total CH4 production, the CH4 production rates were multiplied through the 10–15 m deep talik (thaw bulb). This estimate suggests that CH4 production is higher than emission by a maximum factor of ~2, which is less than previous estimates. Stable and radioactive carbon isotope measurements showed that 50% of dissolved CH4 in the first meter was produced further below. Interestingly, labeled 14C incubations with 2-14C acetate and 14C CO2 indicate that variations in the pathway used by microbes to produce CH4 depends on the age and type of organic matter in the sediment, but did not appear to influence the rates at which CH4 was produced. This study demonstrates that at least half of the CH4 produced by microbial breakdown of organic matter in actively expanding thermokarst is emitted to the atmosphere, and that the majority of this CH4 is produced in the deep sediment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3206-3221
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number10
Early online date4 Mar 2022
StateE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2022


  • Alaska
  • Arctic
  • emission
  • methane
  • methanogenesis
  • permafrost
  • stable isotopes
  • thermokarst

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science (all)


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