Nav: Home

130,000 years of data show peatlands store carbon long-term

February 25, 2019

An international group of scientists dug deep into the past to understand how peatlands, a type of wetland formed by incompletely decomposed organic matter and water, might respond to climate changes in the future.

Peatlands, found in northern and tropical climates, are considered a "carbon sink" because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere causing less carbon to be released. Carbon dioxide, created by burning fossil fuels, is understood to be a cause of Earth's warming climate.

Peatlands, according to Zicheng Yu, a professor in Lehigh University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, only comprise about 3% of the Earth's land area, but contain about one-third of the global soil carbon and thus have an outsized impact on the global carbon cycle?and an important role to play in global climate change.

It has been known that during the Holocene (11,700 years ago to the present) northern peatlands accumulated significant carbon stocks over several thousand years. However, almost nothing has been known about peatlands that existed before that time.

Now, an international team of scientists, led by Claire C. Treat of the University of Eastern Finland and Thomas Kleinen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany, has become the first to conduct a study of global peatland extent and carbon stocks through the last interglacial-glacial cycle?130,000 years ago to the present--filling this key knowledge gap. Using a newly compiled database of 1,063 stratigraphic records of peat deposits buried by mineral sediments, as well as a global peatland model, the team discovered that northern peatland expanded across high latitudes during warm periods and were buried during periods of cooling, or glacial advance.

According to the article describing the research, "Widespread global peatland establishment and persistence over the last 130,000 y," published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): "These results show that northern peatlands accumulate significant C stocks during warmer times, indicating their potential for C sequestration during the warming Anthropocene."

"These new results show the importance of peatlands to the global carbon cycle during and before the Holocene," said Yu, who is a co-author on the study along with two of his current

Ph.D. students, Jon Stelling and Zhengyu Xia, a former Ph.D. student and postdoc, Julie Loisel, and a former postdoc, Miriam Jones. Yu was a founding chair of the international working group called Past Global Changes Carbon in Peat on Earth through Time (PAGES C-PEAT), under which the project and manuscript were developed.

"It has been assumed that the loss of peatlands meant increased decomposition and release of peatland carbon to the atmosphere, but these data demonstrate otherwise," said Yu. "Our study revealed that, with burial by mineral sediments, carbon in peatlands can be incorporated into long-term carbon storage in sediment."

In the conclusion of the article, the authors write: "These observations of buried peats demonstrate that peatlands have been an important C stock since the last interglacial...In particular, actively forming northern peatlands both accumulated C and emitted CH4 during warm periods. During colder periods of glacial advance, the burial of significant northern peat C stocks by mineral sediments and formation of permafrost would have all but stopped decomposition and CH4 emissions..., resulting in the long-term burial of peatland C. The widespread distribution of buried peats and the large mag- nitude of the change in peatland C stock throughout the last glacial cycle suggests that peat formation during warmer times and burial during colder periods has a significant impact on the global carbon cycle that has not been previously quantified."
-end-
The work represented by Lehigh team in this study has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Lehigh University

Related Carbon Articles:

The carbon dioxide loop
Marine biologists quantify the carbon consumption of bacterioplankton to better understand the ocean carbon cycle.
Transforming the carbon economy
A task force commissioned in 2016 by former US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has proposed a framework for evaluating R&D on recycling carbon dioxide and removing large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Closing the carbon loop
Research at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering focused on developing a new catalyst that would lead to large-scale implementation of capture and conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) was recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Catalysis Science & Technology.
An overlooked source of carbon emissions
Nations that pledged to carry out the Paris climate agreement have moved forward to find practical ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including efforts to ban hydrofluorocarbons and set stricter fuel-efficiency standards.
Enabling direct carbon capture
Researchers have developed a solid material that can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, even at very low concentrations.
Development of a novel carbon nanomaterial 'pot'
A novel, pot-shaped, carbon nanomaterial developed by researchers from Kumamoto University, Japan is several times deeper than any hollow carbon nanostructure previously produced.
Unraveling truly one-dimensional carbon solids
Elemental carbon appears in many different forms, including diamond and graphite.
Carbon leads the way in clean energy
Groundbreaking research at Griffith University is leading the way in clean energy, with the use of carbon as a way to deliver energy using hydrogen.
Consumers care about carbon footprint
How much do consumers care about the carbon footprint of the products they buy?
Assessing carbon capture technology
Carbon capture and storage could be used to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and thus ameliorate their impact on climate change.

Related Carbon Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".