International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Stunning Peatlands Amplifying Feedback

04 Nov 2011 | by IW:LEARN
Drying of northern wetlands has led to much more severe peatland wildfires and nine times as much carbon released into the atmosphere, according to new research.

For millennia, peatlands have served as an important sink for atmospheric CO2 and today represent a large soil carbon reservoir. While recent land use and wildfires have reduced carbon sequestration in tropical peatlands, the influence of disturbance on boreal peatlands is uncertain, yet it is important for predicting the fate of northern high-latitude carbon reserves. Here we quantify rates of organic matter storage and combustion losses in a boreal peatland subjected to long-term experimental drainage, a portion of which subsequently burned during a wildfire. We show that drainage doubled rates of organic matter accumulation in the soils of unburned plots. However, drainage also increased carbon losses during wildfire ninefold to 16.8±0.2 kg C m−2, equivalent to a loss of more than 450 years of peat accumulation. Interactions between peatland drainage and fire are likely to cause long-term carbon emissions to far exceed rates of carbon uptake, diminishing the northern peatland carbon sink.

The full study is available here.  The University of Guelph news release does a good job of explaining what they did and what they found