In boreal and subarctic wetland environments, particular attention has been drawn to methane emissions as a strong greenhouse gas and the CO2 exchange in the form of net ecosystem exchange.

This is due to the large stocks of carbon stored in the form of peat. These reservoirs can potentially lead to increased GHG emissions to the atmosphere if climate change improves conditions for decomposition over CO2 uptake by plants.

Over the past years we have established the BEFLUX network and teaching portfolio with UArctic project funding from the Kingdom of Denmark. This effort has its background in a wide range of work from multiple sites on quantifying and measuring GHG exchanges that we have been supervising. We have operated major flux measurement programs in several parts of Fennoscandia and Svalbard, and in particular in Greenland further contributing to the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring (GEM) program measuring GHG fluxes. The GEM program includes monitoring information of a wide range of key ecosystem parameters with time-series extending up to 27 years.

At Oulanka Research Station in eastern Finland, very little GHG flux work has been carried out the last few years. However, a novel GHG measurement program was initiated in 2022 at the Puukkosuo fen near the station, building on experience from the above-mentioned efforts in Greenland. In addition to the unexplored potential for GHG flux studies, a reindeer exclosure was established in 2019, from which ecosystem effects are likely to be observed over the upcoming years. Grazing patterns have in recent years been identified as a major driving factor for vegetation dynamics and in turn GHG exchanges in northern wetlands. In the case of Oulanka, the reason is the unnaturally large reindeer population.

This framework has also turned out to be an ideal setting for research training. We organized our first PhD school in Oulanka in September 2022 where many of the mentioned research components were tied together as a playground for the students’ own projects. We had eighteen students from eleven countries working over a two-week period with data, models, and their own hands-on projects with different aspects of GHG exchanges and other ecosystem responses, comparing results from across the boreal and low- to high-arctic ecosystems.

The course provided training in different disciplines ranging from plant and population ecology to biogeochemistry. Some of the know-how and positive experiences gained during the course are already finding their way to the regular teaching program of the University of Oulu in the form of a master-level course. In a follow-up course, also supported by UArctic, the BEFLUX concept will be extended to students who will look at how these same key environmental variables interact with local communities around. It will hence bring the pure natural science-based environmental monitoring into a context of social scientific considerations for local communities and their involvement and interaction with science.

With the first course, we believe we have already achieved the central goals thanks primarily to the excellent and devoted students. We will continue the effort with the new course in Greenland and encourage further UArctic funding for supporting this type of research training across different high-latitude locations making joint use of long-term monitoring data.

By Torben R. Christensen, Professor, Aarhus University / University of Oulu and Efrén López-Blanco, Post-doc, Researcher, Aarhus University / Greenland Institute for Natural Resources and Riku Paavola, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Communicating Arctic Research, Station Manager, Researcher, Oulanka Research Station, University of Oulu

[Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2023. Read all articles here]