Entrapped gas bubbles in peat can alter the buoyancy, storativity, void ratio and expansion/contraction properties of the peat. Moreover, when gas bubbles block water-conducting pores they can significantly reduce saturated hydraulic conductivity and create zones of over-pressuring, perhaps leading to an alteration in the magnitude and direction of groundwater flow and solute transport. Some previous researches have demonstrated that these zones of over-pressuring are not observed by the measurements of pore-water pressures using open-pipe piezometers in peat; rather, they are only observed with pressure transducers sealed in the peat. In has been hypothesized that open-pipe piezometers vent entrapped CH4 to the atmosphere and thereby do not permit the natural development of zones of entrapped gas. Here we present findings of the study to investigate whether piezometers vent subsurface CH4 to the atmosphere and whether the presence of piezometers alters the subsurface concentration of dissolved CH4. We measured the flux of methane venting from the piezometers and also determined changes in pore-water CH4 concentration at a rich fen in southern Ontario and a poor fen in southern Quebec, in the summer of 2004. Seasonally averaged CH4 flux from piezometers was 1450 and 37.8-mg CH4 m-2 d-1 at the southern Ontario site and Quebec site, respectively. The flux at the Ontario site was two orders of magnitude greater than the diffusive flux at the site. CH4 pore-water concentrations were significantly lower in open piezometers than in water taken from sealed samplers at both the Ontario and Quebec sites. The flux of CH4 from piezometers decreased throughout the season suggesting that CH4 venting through the piezometer exceeded the rate of methanogenesis in the peat. Consequently we conclude that piezometers may alter the gas dynamics of some peatlands. We suggest that less-invasive techniques (e.g. buried pressure transducers, tracer experiments) are needed for the accurate measurement of porewater pressures and hydraulic conductivity in peatlands with a large entrapped gas component. Furthermore, we argue that caution must be made in interpreting results from previous peatland hydrology studies that use these traditional methods.
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|Published - 15 Apr. 2009