Most lakes around the world play a crucial role in affecting the greenhouse concentrations of the atmosphere. In extreme places like Alaska, warm temperatures thaw accumulated plant materials in the permafrost and release a huge amount of carbon. The microbes consume this carbon and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
As the waters warm, the amount of carbon dioxide released surpasses what the plants can consume, causing a net increase in the atmospheric CO2 levels.
But lakes in the Nunavut, a vast tundra region in northern Canada, are peculiar. Research by Soren Brothers, an assistant professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences and Ecology Center, found that these lakes’ carbon dioxide concentrations fell and went in equilibrium with the atmosphere as they warmed.
For the research, Brothers and his team analyzed 23 years of data from lakes near Rankin Inlet and visited the lakes to study the phenomenon in detail.
Most of the Nunavut tundra is on the Canadian shield, which is an ancient bedrock of granite, and the thin soils on these are likely to contain mass reserves of organic matter. The researchers believe that the longer ice-free season might be changing the water chemistry and biology in ways that lower the CO2 concentrations – longer growing seasons and better conditions for algal growth in the shallows of these lakes.
These lakes could greatly impact atmospheric carbon dioxide. Can this be a natural solution to reduce greenhouse concentrations? Maybe not, Brothers suggests that this balance is more likely temporary, and Nunavut lakes might eventually catch up just like other lakes.
It is a complicated process in understanding the impact of lakes on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, but findings like these are an important piece of the puzzle in the science of climate change.
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