Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Our Sustainable Future: Peatland carbon storage is stabilized against catastrophic release of carbon

January 30, 2012


Peatland carbon storage is stabilized against
catastrophic release of carbon.
Credit: iStock.

Summary

Concerns that global warming may have a domino
effect —unleashing 600 billion tons of carbon in
vast expanses of peat in the Northern hemisphere
and accelerating warming to disastrous proportions
— may be less justified than previously thought.
That’s the conclusion of a new study on the topic in
ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Some are concerned that global warming may unleash 600 billion tons of carbon in vast expanses of peat in the Northern hemisphere and accelerate warming to disastrous proportions. Today’s reassuring finding states that concerns about global warming causing this domino effect may be less justified than previously thought.

Here’s the study’s lead author Christian Blodau, Ph.D., of the University of MÜnster.

“Peat bogs — wet deposits of partially decayed plants that are the source of gardeners’ peat moss and fuel — hold about one-third of the world’s carbon. Scientists have been concerned that global warming might dry out the surface of peatlands, allowing the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and methane (a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide) produced from decaying organic matter.”

To see whether this catastrophic domino effect is a realistic possibility, Blodau and colleagues conducted laboratory simulations studying the decomposition of wet bog peat for nearly two years.

Far from observing sudden releases of greenhouse gases, they found that carbon release and methane production slowed down considerably in deeply buried wet peat. This was most likely because deeper peat is shielded from exchange of water and gases with the atmosphere.

“In connection with previous work, we concluded that even under moderately changing climatic conditions, peatlands will continue to sequester, or isolate from the atmosphere, their huge deposits of carbon and methane.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges For the American Chemical Society, I’m Janali Thompson.

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Christian Blodau, Ph.D.,
University of MÜnster