Global warming means prairie lakes absorb carbon dioxide

Posted: February 26, 2015 3:55 p.m.

(Left to Right) Researchers Drs. Björn Wissel, Kerri Finlay, Peter Leavitt and Gavin Simpson have found global warming does not increase CO2 emissions from prairie lakes – rather the opposite - loss of ice cover allows lakes to capture more greenhouse gas from the atmosphere offsetting some industrial emissions.
(Left to Right) Researchers Drs. Björn Wissel, Kerri Finlay, Peter Leavitt and Gavin Simpson have found global warming does not increase CO2 emissions from prairie lakes – rather the opposite - loss of ice cover allows lakes to capture more greenhouse gas from the atmosphere offsetting some industrial emissions. Photo: U of R Photography

Researchers at the University of Regina have found that lakes in southern Saskatchewan are absorbing more carbon dioxide as a result of global warming – which is contrary to previous research that suggested global warming is increasing CO2 emissions from lakes.

These findings mean people in agricultural areas may have a little more time to develop ways to reduce the impact of CO2 emissions.

These latest research findings were published online on February 25, 2015, in the the prestigious British-based academic journal, Nature, at http://doi.org/10.1038/nature14172.

The research was done by University of Regina researchers Dr. Kerri Finlay, Dr. Peter Leavitt, Dr. Gavin Simpson, Dr. Björn Wissel, Dr. Matthew Bogard and Dr. Richard Vogt, in collaboration with University of Minnesota PhD student Benjamin Tutolo.

The article – entitled “CO2 efflux from northern hardwater lakes reduced by atmospheric warming” – is attracting international attention.

“Most lakes emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and the emissions from many of them are likely to increase with global warming. This study shows that this is not always the case. The researchers found that lakes on the prairies and in agricultural areas may even turn into sinks of carbon dioxide in response to global warming,” explains Lars Tranvik of the Evolutionary Biology Centre at Uppsala University in Sweden.

The researchers calculate that the increase in CO2 capture by lakes in Saskatchewan is equivalent to about one-third of all agricultural CO2 emissions in the province.

“This ‘natural offset’ gives the province more time to develop effective greenhouse gas captures strategies, so long as the lakes are not changed by other human activities, such as urbanization, agriculture and water extraction for potash mining,” explains Dr. Leavitt, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and Society.

Dr. Leavitt, a professor of biology, and director of the University of Regina’s Institute of Environmental Change and Society, recently began a term as a visiting scholar by Fulbright Canada at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Research published in Nature is of the highest international calibre and demonstrates our ability to produce important science for the public good,” says Dr. Leavitt.
 
This is an example of the research excellence at the University of Regina, as outlined in the new strategic plan, www.uregina.ca/strategic-plan/.  

For more information about the variety of teaching and research offered through the Department of Biology, please visit: www.uregina.ca/science/biology/