Global warming and land use change are putting peatlands, the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet, on the brink of collapse.. Several scientific studies have confirmed the gradual destruction of peat bogs in the Amazon and permafrost in northern Europe and western Siberia. Although they only cover less than 4% of the Earth’s surface, these ecosystems store half the world’s carbon, more than the biomass of all existing forests. Like this if its content is released, the amount of carbon on the planet will double, and the consequences will be catastrophic..
A peat bog is a type of acid wetland where a large amount of organic matter is deposited in the form of peat.. They are like sponges of algae and plants that have accumulated in a water-saturated environment for thousands of years without being completely spoiled. They make up 50% of the world’s wetlands and can be found on all five continents..
These ecosystems are highly vulnerable to human intervention and are at risk of extinction.: In Europe, Asia and the Americas, peat is dried to create more land for agriculture and forestry. The problem is that when these drain and the peat decomposes, carbon is released into the atmosphere.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calculates that 15% of what is available in the world is already drained due to drainage of peatlands. about one gigatonne of greenhouse gas emissions are released each year.
fire prone areas
An international team of scientists conducted a study focusing on the Peruvian Amazon and confirmed that change in land use is causing the loss of large areas of peat bogs. significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
The researchers, who have just published their work in the journal Nature Geoscience, call for the design of effective policies for the conservation and restoration of peat bogs, a target where location maps and carbon storage of these tropical ecosystems are vital.
In the Peruvian Amazon alone, peat bogs cover between 62,000 and 67,000 square kilometers, twice that of Catalonia (32,113 square kilometers), more than previously believed, and store about 5,400 million tons of carbon.. It is twice what was previously calculated and as much as all the forests in Peru, but concentrated in only 5% of the country’s land area.
The research, led by the Universities of Edinburgh and Saint Andrews and involving scientists from the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute in Peru, confirmed it. increased deforestation and CO2 emissions Associated with peat decomposition due to conversion to mining, urban areas and agriculture.
The study’s authors recommend specific monitoring, conservation and sustainable management of tropical peatlands “to prevent further degradation and CO2 emissions.”
Drained peatlands are prone to firecan cause a large and rapid increase in emissions. Taking these threats into account, Peru has passed a law for the first time mandating explicit protection of peatlands to mitigate climate change.
Very pessimistic climate forecasts
“Peatlands store half of all soil carbon on the planet, but these vulnerable to human pressures. It is important for all of us to know where they are so we can protect them and help us mitigate climate change. “There is still a lot to learn,” says Ian Lawson, leader of the international project.
However permafrost peatlands are also near climate tipping point. Frozen peatlands in these parts of Europe and Western Siberia store up to 39.5 billion tons of carbon, twice the amount stored in European forests as a whole.
A study led by the University of Leeds and published last March used the latest generation of climate models to examine the possible future climates of these regions and their possible impact on permafrost peatlands.
The predictions are very pessimistic: Despite the greatest efforts to reduce global carbon emissions and limit global warming, by 2040 northern European climates will no longer be cold and dry enough to support peat permafrost..
However, strong action to reduce emissions could help maintain climates suitable for permafrost peatlands in north-west Siberia, a landscape containing 13.9 billion metric tons of peat carbon.
Study published in ‘Nature Climate Change’and‘, emphasizing the importance socioeconomic policies aimed at reducing emissions and mitigating climate change and its role in determining the extent and rate of thawing of permafrost peatlands.
“We shouldn’t throw towels”
“Our study shows that These fragile ecosystems are on the edge of the abyss. and even moderate relief Widespread loss of climates suitable for peat permafrost by the end of the century”, says Richard Fewster, a researcher at the Leeds School of Geography and lead author of the study.
But Fewster left one window of hope open:That doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel.. The rate and extent of loss of favorable weather conditions can be limited and even partially reversed by: strong climate change mitigation policies”.
“The magnitude of 21st century climate change will outweigh any protection that the insulating properties of peat soils can provide,” he adds.
The large amounts of carbon stored in the permafrost soils of peatlands, especially threatened by rapid climate change. When permafrost thaws, organic matter begins to break down and releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which increase global temperatures and potentially accelerate global climate change.
Amazon Peatlands Study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-022-00923-4
Permafrost Peatlands Study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-022-01296-7
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