Beaver habitats and methane gas correlation in the Alaska Arctic

Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 3:41 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A new study led by researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute (UAF) involves a correlation between Arctic beaver habits and an increase in Methane gas emissions in the Arctic region of Alaska.

The UAF research team focused on approximately 166 square miles of land in the northwest part of the state, in the lower Noatak River Basin.

Ken Tape, a UAF research professor has done extensive research about the northward migration of beavers and the resulting impact on the Arctic environment.

Tape explains, “We mapped all these beaver ponds, creek by creek, slough by slough, and so now, we’ve got this map of beaver ponds here, and now we’ve got this new tool that shows us where methane is being released on the landscape. You overlay those two things, and you can see if there’s a greater chance of these methane emissions around beaver ponds.”

Locations of methane hot spots were compared to the locations of 118 beaver ponds and to a number of nearby unaffected stream reaches and lakes.

“What we found is that there are lots of methane hotspots right next to ponds and they start to diminish as you go away from the pond,” said Tape.

This is an important finding because methane is a greenhouse gas, said to be about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports globally, that methane also accounts for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions overall.

This new study is the first of its kind that links large number of new beaver ponds to methane emissions. “What the longer-term implications are, we don’t know,” said Tape.

Extensive field research combined with cameras using hyperspectral imaging to create images that are not visible to the human eye, were compiled together with data to correlate the relationship between beaver migration and methane gas release in the arctic.

The findings of this study was published in IOPScience Environmental Research Letters in July 2023 by lead author, Jason Clark and co-author Ken Tape. Clark is a former postdoctoral of UAF Geophysical Institute and Tape is a research professor at the UAF Geophysical Institute. Additional contributors include UAF Institute of Northern Engineering research assistant Benjamin Jones, and researchers from the National Park Service and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Research is expected to continue by studying longer term effects of beaver migration into the arctic tundra and the connection to increased methane into the atmosphere.