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Remote sensing northern lake methane ebullition

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Abstract

Northern lakes are considered a major source of atmospheric methane (CH4), a potent GHG1,2. However, large uncertainties in their emissions (7–26 Tg CH4 yr–1; ref. 2) arise from challenges in upscaling field data, including fluxes by ebullition (bubbling), the dominant emission pathway2. Remote sensing of ebullition would allow detailed mapping of regional emissions but has hitherto not been developed. Here, we show that lake ebullition can be imaged using synthetic aperture radar remote sensing during ice-cover periods by exploiting the effect of ebullition on the texture of the ice–water interface. Applying this method to five Alaska regions and combining spatial remote sensing information with year-round bubble-trap flux measurements, we create ebullition-flux maps for 5,143 Alaskan lakes. Regional lake CH4 emissions, based on satellite remote sensing analyses, were lower compared to previous estimates based on upscaling from individual lakes2,3 and were consistent with independent airborne CH4 observations. Thermokarst lakes formed by thaw of organic-rich permafrost had the highest fluxes, although lake density and lake size distributions also controlled regional emissions. This new remote sensing approach offers an opportunity to improve knowledge about Arctic CH4 fluxes and helps to explain long-standing discrepancies between estimates of CH4 emissions from atmospheric measurements and data upscaled from individual lakes.

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Engram, M., Walter Anthony, K. M., Sachs, T., Kohnert, K., Serafimovich, A., Grosse, G., & Meyer, F. J. (2020). Remote sensing northern lake methane ebullition. Nature Climate Change, 10(6), 511–517. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0762-8

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