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Climate-driven expansion of blanket bogs in Britain during the Holocene

Gallego Sala, A. V., Charman, D. J., Harrison, S. P., Li, G. and Prentice, I. C. (2016) Climate-driven expansion of blanket bogs in Britain during the Holocene. Climate of the Past, 12 (1). pp. 129-136. ISSN 1814-9324

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To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/cp-12-129-2016

Abstract/Summary

Blanket bog occupies approximately 6% of the area of the UK today. The Holocene expansion of this hyperoceanic biome has previously been explained as a consequence of Neolithic forest clearance. However, the present distribution of blanket bog in Great Britain can be predicted accurately with a simple model (PeatStash) based on summer temperature and moisture index thresholds, and the same model correctly predicts the highly disjunct distribution of blanket bog worldwide. This finding suggests that climate, rather than land-use history, controls blanket-bog distribution in the UK and everywhere else. We set out to test this hypothesis for blanket bogs in the UK using bioclimate envelope modelling compared with a database of peat initiation age estimates. We used both pollen-based reconstructions and climate model simulations of climate changes between the mid-Holocene (6000 yr BP, 6 ka) and modern climate to drive PeatStash and predict areas of blanket bog. We compiled data on the timing of blanketbog initiation, based on 228 age determinations at sites where peat directly overlies mineral soil. The model predicts that large areas of northern Britain would have had blanket bog by 6000 yr BP, and the area suitable for peat growth extended to the south after this time. A similar pattern is shown by the basal peat ages and new blanket bog appeared over a larger area during the late Holocene, the greatest expansion being in Ireland,Wales, and southwest England, as the model predicts. The expansion was driven by a summer cooling of about 2 °C, shown by both pollen-based reconstructions and climate models. The data show early Holocene (pre- Neolithic) blanket-bog initiation at over half of the sites in the core areas of Scotland and northern England. The temporal patterns and concurrence of the bioclimate model predictions and initiation data suggest that climate change provides a parsimonious explanation for the early Holocene distribution and later expansion of blanket bogs in the UK, and it is not necessary to invoke anthropogenic activity as a driver of this major landscape change.

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 > Centre for Past Climate Change
ID Code:53335
Publisher:Copernicus Publications on behalf of the European Geosciences Union

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