CO2 flux determination by closed-chamber methods can be seriously biased by inappropriate application of linear regression
1Institute for Botany and Landscape Ecology, Ernst Moritz Arndt University Greifswald, Grimmer Straße 88, 17487 Greifswald, Germany
2Foundation Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Research Unit Potsdam, Telegrafenberg A43, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
3Institute of Geoecology, Technical University Braunschweig, Langer Kamp 19c, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
4Department of Environmental Science, Biogeochemistry Research Group, University of Kuopio, P.O. Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
5Finnish Forest Research Inst., Joensuu Research Unit, P.O. Box 68, 80101 Joensuu, Finland
Abstract. Closed (non-steady state) chambers are widely used for quantifying carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes between soils or low-stature canopies and the atmosphere. It is well recognised that covering a soil or vegetation by a closed chamber inherently disturbs the natural CO2 fluxes by altering the concentration gradients between the soil, the vegetation and the overlying air. Thus, the driving factors of CO2 fluxes are not constant during the closed chamber experiment, and no linear increase or decrease of CO2 concentration over time within the chamber headspace can be expected. Nevertheless, linear regression has been applied for calculating CO2 fluxes in many recent, partly influential, studies. This approach was justified by keeping the closure time short and assuming the concentration change over time to be in the linear range. Here, we test if the application of linear regression is really appropriate for estimating CO2 fluxes using closed chambers over short closure times and if the application of nonlinear regression is necessary. We developed a nonlinear exponential regression model from diffusion and photosynthesis theory. This exponential model was tested with four different datasets of CO2 flux measurements (total number: 1764) conducted at three peatland sites in Finland and a tundra site in Siberia. The flux measurements were performed using transparent chambers on vegetated surfaces and opaque chambers on bare peat surfaces. Thorough analyses of residuals demonstrated that linear regression was frequently not appropriate for the determination of CO2 fluxes by closed-chamber methods, even if closure times were kept short. The developed exponential model was well suited for nonlinear regression of the concentration over time c(t) evolution in the chamber headspace and estimation of the initial CO2 fluxes at closure time for the majority of experiments. CO2 flux estimates by linear regression can be as low as 40% of the flux estimates of exponential regression for closure times of only two minutes and even lower for longer closure times. The degree of underestimation increased with increasing CO2 flux strength and is dependent on soil and vegetation conditions which can disturb not only the quantitative but also the qualitative evaluation of CO2 flux dynamics. The underestimation effect by linear regression was observed to be different for CO2 uptake and release situations which can lead to stronger bias in the daily, seasonal and annual CO2 balances than in the individual fluxes. To avoid serious bias of CO2 flux estimates based on closed chamber experiments, we suggest further tests using published datasets and recommend the use of nonlinear regression models for future closed chamber studies.