Carbon budgets of boreal lakes: Current state of knowledge, challenges and implications

Published in Environmental Reviews, 2015

Recommended citation: Anas, M.U.M., K.A. Scott and B. Wissel. (2015). "Carbon budgets of boreal lakes: Current state of knowledge, challenges and implications." Environmental Reviews. 23:275-287.

Converging evidence suggests that freshwater systems play an important role in the carbon cycles at both regional and global scales. In addition, there are serious concerns that ongoing and future changes to the environment could alter these dynamics. This is particularly important in the boreal forest biome, which contains a very high density of lakes. In this review, we synthesize the current state of research to provide a critical overview of (i) the role of boreal lakes as emitters versus sinks of carbon, (ii) their contribution to the regional carbon balance, (iii) knowledge gaps that may inhibit an accurate evaluation of the role of boreal lakes in a landscape context, and (iv) impacts of environmental perturbations on carbon dynamics in boreal lakes. Several recent studies indicate that boreal lakes are actively processing, emitting, and storing carbon rather than being passive transport conduits. Yet, generalizing the role of lake ecosystems for the overall carbon balance of the boreal forest biome is challenging because of the scarcity of studies on lake carbon budgets in a landscape context that can capture the potential temporal and spatial variability and uncertainties associated with the available estimates of carbon pools and fluxes. Further, environmental perturbations, such as climate change, acidic deposition, and nutrient enrichment, likely affect both carbon export to lakes and in-lake carbon processing in boreal regions. Predicting their overall impacts on lake carbon budgets is particularly difficult, not only because individual environmental stressors likely affect multiple processes involved in carbon cycling, but also because often multiple stressors act synergistically or antagonistically at the landscape level. Accordingly, long-term, system-wide approaches are required to accurately evaluate the importance of lakes for boreal carbon budgets in a changing environment.