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Potential future methane emission hot spots in Greenland

New publication by Marilena Sophie Geng, Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen and Torben Røjle Christensen


Climate models have been making significant progress encompassing an increasing number of complex feedback mechanisms from natural ecosystems. Permafrost thaw and subsequent induced greenhouse gas emissions, however, remain a challenge for climate models at large. Deducing permafrost conditions and associated greenhouse gas emissions from parameters that are simulated in climate models would be a helpful step towards estimating emission budgets from permafrost regions. Here we use a regional climate model with a 5 km horizontal resolution to assess future potential methane (CH4) emissions over presently unglaciated areas in Greenland under an RCP8.5 scenario. A simple frost index is applied to estimate permafrost conditions from the model output. CH4 flux measurements from two stations in Greenland; Nuuk representing sub-Arctic and Zackenberg high-Arctic climate, are used to establish a relationship between emissions and near surface air temperature. Permafrost conditions in Greenland change drastically by the end of the 21st century in an RCP8.5 climate. Continuous permafrost remains stable only in North Greenland, the north-west coast, the northern tip of Disko Island, and Nuussuaq. Southern Greenland conditions only sustain sporadic permafrost conditions and largely at high elevations, whereas former permafrost in other regions thaws. The increasing thawed soil leads to increasing CH4 emissions. Especially the area surrounding Kangerlussuaq, Scoresby Land, and the southern coast of Greenland exhibit potentially high emissions during the longer growing season. The constructed maps and budgets combining modelled permafrost conditions with observed CH4 fluxes from CH4 promoting sites represent a useful tool to identify areas in need of additional monitoring as they highlight potential CH4 hot spots.