It has been well documented that restored wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America do store carbon. However, the net benefit of carbon sequestration in wetlands in terms of a reduction in global warming forcing has often been questioned because of potentially greater emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4). We compared gas emissions (N2O, CH4, carbon dioxide [CO2]) and soil moisture and temperature from eight cropland and eight restored grassland wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region from May to October, 2003, to better understand the atmospheric carbon mitigation potential of restored wetlands. Results show that carbon dioxide contributed the most (90%) to net-GHG flux, followed by CH4 (9%) and N2O (1%). Fluxes of N2O, CH4, CO2, and their combined global warming potential (CO2 equivalents) did not significantly differ between cropland and grassland wetlands. The seasonal pattern in flux was similar in cropland and grassland wetlands with peak emissions of N2O and CH4 occurring when soil water-filled pore space (WFPS) was 40-60% and >60%, respectively; negative CH4 fluxes were observed when WFPS approached 40%. Negative CH4 fluxes from grassland wetlands occurred earlier in the season and were more pronounced than those from cropland sites because WFPS declined more rapidly in grassland wetlands; this decline was likely due to higher infiltration and evapotranspiration rates associated with grasslands. Our results suggest that restoring cropland wetlands does not result in greater emissions of N2O and CH4, and therefore would not offset potential soil carbon sequestration. These findings, however, are limited to a small sample of seasonal wetlands with relatively short hydroperiods. A more comprehensive assessment of the GHG mitigation potential of restored wetlands should include a diversity of wetland types and land-use practices and consider the impact of variable climatic cycles that affect wetland hydrology.
Additional publication details
Greenhouse gas flux from cropland and restored wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region