Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013DE253B

Methane and Carbon Dioxide Fluxes in a Watershed

Institute: Delaware
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-03-01 End Date: 2014-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $1,500 Total Non-Federal Funds: $3,000

Principal Investigators: Rodrigo Vargas, Kelsey McWilliams

Abstract: Climate change brings up a variety of issues for both local environments and ecosystems, especially in Delaware which is subject to sea level rise and extreme weather events (i.e., hurricanes). It is important to understand how ecosystems currently respond to weather variability to better understand the potential effects of climate change as it will help mankind better prepare for the future. The Delaware watersheds play an important role in preserving forested areas, biodiversity and provide important environmental services such as carbon sequestration and preservation of water resources. Within watersheds many biochemical cycles are regulated by changes in soil water content which is controlled by precipitation and topography. Furthermore, Delaware has experienced extreme weather events in the last years with hurricanes Irene and Sandy affecting ecosystems and the environmental services they provide. Watersheds naturally expel greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2, CH4) from soils as a result of biological processes including decomposition of soil organic matter. Climate change will include an increase on global surface temperatures and changes in precipitation variability that will create feedback in the release of greenhouse gases from soils. Changes in soil water content and soil temperature regulate the rates of greenhouse gas fluxes from soils. For example, higher temperatures are associated with an increase in CO2 fluxes, but when soils become water logged, they could shift to become a methane source. Through the analyses of variations in soil water content and soil temperature we can better understand the temporal and spatial variations of CH4 and CO2, as a response of weather variability. The watershed that will be studied is the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area located near the University of Delaware. The analysis of the fluctuations of CO2 and CH4 fluxes will lead to more insight of how weather variability and changes in soil water content regulate greenhouse emissions from soils. Preservation of watersheds is important because they reduce storm flooding, filter containments out of water, provide vital habitats for wildlife, improve water quality, and regulate greenhouse gas fluxes to and from the atmosphere. These important properties of watersheds can be influenced with land use changes and climate variability; therefore, a first step for protecting them is by better quantifying the environmental services they provide such as regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from soils.