Wildfires may change peatland management

  • Drying of northern wetlands has led to much more severe peatland wildfires and nine times as much carbon released into the atmosphere.
  • A long term experiment in peat drainage, set up in Canada, in 1983 which was interrupted by a wild fire, encouraged scientists to investigate the effect of wildfires in drained and pristine peat. The study revealed that drained peat releases 8.5 more carbon per square meter than pristine peat.
  • As wildfires tend to affect the same area of peatland once every 120 years in this region of Canada, the drained peat would not accumulate carbon fast enough to replenish the carbon content of the soil before the next wild fire struck. As a result, the effects of climate change are likely to turn many areas of boreal peat into carbon sources in future.

The results were surprising and may affect the way peat land is managed. Long-term drain- age actually increased tree productivity and carbon storage in the soils. However, a lower water table changed wildfire conditions, and losses of soil carbon to burning in the drained areas increased nine-fold. The study could have implications for peatland management in the UK to prevent the loss of carbon from fire or other events.

For more information, visit: http://tinyurl.com/d78aoq6; http://tinyurl.com/6kpqmvt

About Joao Delgado

Joao is a Research Fellow in Futures Research and leads on medium-large scale futures projects at CERF. Amongst other projects, he has led the development of scenarios for the future of river basin management for the Environment Agency. His professional interests include veterinary science, epidemiology, risk and systems thinking.
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