, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 419–431 | Cite as

Deeper Snow Enhances Winter Respiration from Both Plant-associated and Bulk Soil Carbon Pools in Birch Hummock Tundra



It has only recently become apparent that biological activity during winter in seasonally snow-covered ecosystems may exert a significant influence on biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem function. One-seventh of the global soil carbon pool is stored in the bulk soil component of arctic ecosystems. Consistent climate change predictions of substantial increases in winter air temperatures and snow depths for the Arctic indicate that this region may become a significant net annual source of CO2 to the atmosphere if its bulk soil carbon is decomposed. We used snow fences to investigate the influence of a moderate increase in snow depth from approximately 0.3 m (ambient) to approximately 1 m on winter carbon dioxide fluxes from mesic birch hummock tundra in northern Canada. We differentiated fluxes derived from the bulk soil and plant-associated carbon pools using an experimental ‘weeding’ manipulation. Increased snow depth enhanced the wintertime carbon flux from both pools, strongly suggesting that respiration from each was sensitive to warmer soil temperatures. Furthermore, deepened snow resulted in cooler and relatively stable soil temperatures during the spring-thaw period, as well as delayed and fewer freeze–thaw cycles. The snow fence treatment increased mean total winter efflux from 27 to 43 g CO2-C m−2. Because total 2004 growing season net ecosystem exchange for this site is estimated at 29–37 g CO2-C m−2, our results strongly suggest that a moderate increase in snow depth can enhance winter respiration sufficiently to switch the ecosystem annual net carbon exchange from a sink to source, resulting in net CO2 release to the atmosphere.


climate change winter snow soil tundra birch arctic respiration carbon dioxide temperature Canada 



We thank Brian Reid, Liesha Mayo-Bruinsma, Mike English, Mike Treberg, Elyn Humphreys, Christopher Murray and Robbie A. Hember for help in the field. Many thanks to Peter Lafleur and Greg Henry for scientific assistance and advice, and especially to Steve Matthews and Karin Clark for logistical assistance. We are very appreciative of the review comments by Paddy Sullivan and an anonymous reviewer, as well as those from Ian McHugh. This research would not have been possible without the facilities and support provided at the Tundra Ecosystem Research Station (TERS) at Daring Lake by the Wildlife Division for Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Northwest Territories. The research was funded by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, NSERC and the Northern Scientific Training Program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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