Soil respiration strongly offsets carbon uptake in Alaska and Northwest Canada

Jennifer D. Watts, Susan M. Natali, Christina Minions, Dave Risk, Kyle Arndt, Donatella Zona, Eugénie S. Euskirchen, Adrian V. Rocha, Oliver Sonnentag, Manuel Helbig, Aram Kalhori, Walt Oechel, Hiroki Ikawa, Masahito Ueyama, Rikie Suzuki, Hideki Kobayashi, Gerardo Celis, Edward A.G. Schuur, Elyn Humphreys, Yongwon KimBang Yong Lee, Scott Goetz, Nima Madani, Luke D. Schiferl, Roisin Commane, John S. Kimball, Zhihua Liu, Margaret S. Torn, Stefano Potter, Jonathan A. Wang, M. Torre Jorgenson, Jingfeng Xiao, Xing Li, Colin Edgar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Soil respiration (i.e. from soils and roots) provides one of the largest global fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere and is likely to increase with warming, yet the magnitude of soil respiration from rapidly thawing Arctic-boreal regions is not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, we first compiled a new CO2 flux database for permafrost-affected tundra and boreal ecosystems in Alaska and Northwest Canada. We then used the CO2 database, multi-sensor satellite imagery, and random forest models to assess the regional magnitude of soil respiration. The flux database includes a new Soil Respiration Station network of chamber-based fluxes, and fluxes from eddy covariance towers. Our site-level data, spanning September 2016 to August 2017, revealed that the largest soil respiration emissions occurred during the summer (June-August) and that summer fluxes were higher in boreal sites (1.87 ± 0.67 g CO2-C m-2 d-1) relative to tundra (0.94 ± 0.4 g CO2-C m-2 d-1). We also observed considerable emissions (boreal: 0.24 ± 0.2 g CO2-C m-2 d-1; tundra: 0.18 ± 0.16 g CO2-C m-2 d-1) from soils during the winter (November-March) despite frozen surface conditions. Our model estimates indicated an annual region-wide loss from soil respiration of 591 ± 120 Tg CO2-C during the 2016-2017 period. Summer months contributed to 58% of the regional soil respiration, winter months contributed to 15%, and the shoulder months contributed to 27%. In total, soil respiration offset 54% of annual gross primary productivity (GPP) across the study domain. We also found that in tundra environments, transitional tundra/boreal ecotones, and in landscapes recently affected by fire, soil respiration often exceeded GPP, resulting in a net annual source of CO2 to the atmosphere. As this region continues to warm, soil respiration may increasingly offset GPP, further amplifying global climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number084051
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Arctic
  • CO
  • boreal
  • carbon
  • climate change
  • ecosystem vulnerability
  • soil respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Soil respiration strongly offsets carbon uptake in Alaska and Northwest Canada'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this