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Peatland carbon cycling is critical for the land–atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases, particularly under changing environments. Warming and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (eCO2) concentrations directly enhance peatland methane (CH4) emission, and indirectly affect CH4 processes by altering hydrological conditions. An ecosystem model ELM-SPRUCE, the land model of the E3SM model, was used to understand the hydrological feedback mechanisms on CH4 emission in a temperate peatland under a warming gradient and eCO2 treatments. We found that the water table level was a critical regulator of hydrological feedbacks that affect peatland CH4 dynamics; the simulated water table levels dropped as warming intensified but slightly increased under eCO2. Evaporation and vegetation transpiration determined the water table level in peatland ecosystems. Although warming significantly stimulated CH4 emission, the hydrological feedbacks leading to a reduced water table mitigated the stimulating effects of warming on CH4 emission. The hydrological feedback for eCO2 effects was weak. The comparison between modeled results with data from a field experiment and a global synthesis of observations supports the model simulation of hydrological feedbacks in projecting CH4 flux under warming and eCO2. The ELM-SPRUCE model showed relatively small parameter-induced uncertainties on hydrological variables and their impacts on CH4 fluxes. A sensitivity analysis confirmed a strong hydrological feedback in the first three years and the feedback diminished after four years of warming. Hydrology-moderated warming impacts on CH4 cycling suggest that the indirect effect of warming on hydrological feedbacks is fundamental for accurately projecting peatland CH4 flux under climate warming.


This article was originally published in Journal of Hydrology, volume 603 section D, in 2021.


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