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Peatland preservation vital to climate - University of Exeter

Preserving the world's peatlands – and the vast carbon stores they contain – is vital to limiting climate change, researchers say.

The study, led by the University of Exeter and Texas A&M University, examines peatland losses over human history and predicts these will be "amplified" in the future.

Arctic peatland in Svalbard (Angela Gallego-Sala)
Arctic peatland in Svalbard (Angela Gallego-Sala)

Peatlands are expected to shift from an overall "sink" (absorbing carbon) to a source this century, primarily due to human impacts across the tropics, and the study warns more than 100 billion tons of carbon could be released by 2100, although uncertainties remain large.

Peatlands are currently excluded from the main Earth System Models used for climate change projections – something the researchers say must be urgently addressed.

"Peatlands contain more carbon than all the world's forests and, like many forests, their future is uncertain," said Professor Angela Gallego-Sala, of Exeter's Global Systems Institute.

"Peatlands are vulnerable to climate change impacts such as increased risk of wildfires and droughts, the thawing of permafrost and rising sea levels. However, the main threats to peatlands are more direct – particularly destruction by humans to create agricultural land. So the future of peatlands is very much in our hands."

Access the paper: Loisel, J., Gallego-Sala, A.V., Amesbury, M.J. et al. Expert assessment of future vulnerability of the global peatland carbon sink. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-00944-0

Posted on: 08 December 2020

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