Large fractionations of C and H isotopes related to methane oxidation in Arctic lakes

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© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. Microbial oxidation of methane (CH4) plays a central role in carbon cycling in Arctic lakes, reducing potential CH4 emissions associated with warming. Isotopic signatures of CH4 (δ13C and δ2H) are indicators of microbial oxidation, wherein the process strongly enriches 13C and 2H in residual CH4. We present δ13C and δ2H measurements obtained from sampling the water column and sediment for dissolved CH4 from three, small Arctic lakes in western Greenland under both open-water and ice-covered conditions from 2013 to 2014. Despite substantial variations in aquatic chemistry among the lakes, δ13C and δ2H of CH4 suggested that CH4 was produced predominantly by acetoclastic methanogenesis in the littoral sediments and hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis in the profundal sediments in all of the lakes. Surprisingly large variations for both δ13C and δ2H of CH4 were observed, with δ13C extending from -72‰ to +7.4‰ and δ2H from -390‰ to +250‰. The CH4 isotopic values reported here were significantly more enriched (p < 0.0001) in both 13C and 2H than values reported from other Arctic freshwater environments. As is characteristic of methanotrophy, the enrichment in 13C and 2H was associated with low CH4 concentrations. We suggest that the CH4 most enriched in 13C and 2H may reflect unusually efficient methanotrophic communities in Arctic ice-margin lakes. This study provides the first measurement of δ2H for CH4 in an Arctic freshwater environment at concentrations <10 μM. The extreme enrichment of 13C and 2H of CH4 from Arctic methanotrophy has significant implications for interpreting sources and sinks of CH4. Without knowledge of local geology, stable isotope values of CH4 higher than -30‰ for δ13C and -150‰ for δ2H could be misinterpreted as thermogenic, geothermal, or abiogenic origins. Given crystalline bedrock and the strong positive correlation between δ13C and δ2H throughout the water columns in three Arctic lakes confirms that CH4 heavily enriched in 13C and 2H is the result of methanotrophy.

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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