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Carbon balance of UK peatlands: current state of knowledge and future research challenges

Billett, M. F., Charman, D. J., Clark, J. M., Evans, C. D., Evans, M. G., Ostle, N. J., Worrall, F., Burden, A., Dinsmore, K. J., Jones, T., McNamara, N. P., Parry, L., Rowson, J. G. and Rose, R. (2010) Carbon balance of UK peatlands: current state of knowledge and future research challenges. Climate Research, 45. pp. 13-29. ISSN 0936-577X

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To link to this article DOI: 10.3354/cr00903

Abstract/Summary

The retention of peatland carbon (C) and the ability to continue to draw down and store C from the atmosphere is not only important for the UK terrestrial carbon inventory, but also for a range of ecosystem services, the landscape value and the ecology and hydrology of ~15% of the land area of the UK. Here we review the current state of knowledge on the C balance of UK peatlands using several studies which highlight not only the importance of making good flux measurements, but also the spatial and temporal variability of different flux terms that characterise a landscape affected by a range of natural and anthropogenic processes and threats. Our data emphasise the importance of measuring (or accurately estimating) all components of the peatland C budget. We highlight the role of the aquatic pathway and suggest that fluxes are higher than previously thought. We also compare the contemporary C balance of several UK peatlands with historical rates of C accumulation measured using peat cores, thus providing a long-term context for present-day measurements and their natural year-on-year variability. Contemporary measurements from 2 sites suggest that current accumulation rates (–56 to –72 g C m–2 yr–1) are at the lower end of those seen over the last 150 yr in peat cores (–35 to –209 g C m–2 yr–1). Finally, we highlight significant current gaps in knowledge and identify where levels of uncertainty are high, as well as emphasise the research challenges that need to be addressed if we are to improve the measurement and prediction of change in the peatland C balance over future decades.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Soil Research Centre
Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Earth Systems Science
ID Code:19216
Publisher:Inter Research

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