A comparison of water and carbon dioxide exchange at a windy alpine tundra and subalpine forest site near Niwot Ridge, Colorado

Peter D. Blanken, Mark W. Williams, Sean P. Burns, Russell K. Monson, John Knowles, Kurt Chowanski, Todd Ackerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

42 Scopus citations


Eddy covariance measurements of the surface energy balance and carbon dioxide exchange above high-elevation (3,480 m above sea level) alpine tundra located near Niwot Ridge, Colorado, were compared to simultaneous measurements made over an adjacent subalpine forest over two summers and one winter, from June 9, 2007 to July 3, 2008. The surface energy balance closure at the alpine site averaged 71 and 91%, winter and summer, respectively, due to the high wind speeds, short turbulent flux footprint, and relatively flat ridge-top location of the measurement site. Throughout the year, the alpine site was cooler with higher relative humidity, and had a higher horizontal wind speed, especially in winter, compared to the forest site. Wind direction was persistently downslope at the alpine site (summer and winter, day and night), whereas upslope winds were common at the forest site during summer daytime periods. The latent and sensible heat fluxes were consistently larger in magnitude at the forest site, with the largest differences during summer. The horizontal advective flux of CO2 at the alpine site averaged 6% of the net ecosystem exchange (NEE) during summer nights (5% during summer daytime), and was small in relation to the high wind speeds, relatively flat site, and weak sources of CO2 upwind of the site. The magnitudes and diurnal behavior of the alpine NEE calculated using three methods; eddy-covariance, friction velocity filter, and with advection and storage calculations, gave similar results. The period of net CO2 uptake (negative NEE) was 100days at the alpine site with a net uptake of 16 g C m-2, compared to 208 days at the forest site with a net uptake of 108 g C m-2, with initiation of net uptake coinciding with air temperatures reaching +10°C. Winter respiration loss at the alpine site was 164 g Cm-2 over 271 days, compared to 52 g Cm-2 over 175 days at the forest site, with the initiation of net loss coinciding with air temperatures reaching -10°C at each site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-76
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 23 2009
Externally publishedYes



  • Alpine
  • Carbon
  • Eddy correlation
  • Evaporation
  • Niwot Ridge
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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