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Northern Peatlands: Role in the Carbon Cycle and Probable Responses to Climatic Warming

Eville Gorham
Ecological Applications
Vol. 1, No. 2 (May, 1991), pp. 182-195
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/1941811
Stable URL:
Page Count: 14
Subjects: Biological Sciences Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
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Boreal and subarctic peatlands comprise a carbon pool of 455 Pg that has accumulated during the postglacial period at an average net rate of 0.096 Pg/yr (1 Pg = 10^1^5g). Using Clymo's (1984) model, the current rate is estimated at 0.076 Pg/yr. Longterm drainage of these peatlands is estimated to be causing the oxidation to CO"2 of a little more than 0.0085 Pg/yr, with conbustion of fuel peat adding @?0.026 Pg/yr. Emissions of CH"4 are estimated to release @? 0.046 Pg of carbon annually. Uncertainties beset estimates of both stocks and fluxes, particularly with regard to Soviet peatlands. The influence of water table alterations upon fluxes of both CO"2 and CH"4 is in great need of investigation over a wide range of peatland environments, especially in regions where permafrost melting, thermokarst erosion, and the development of thaw lakes are likely results of climatic warming. The role of fire in the carbon cycle of peatlands also deserves increased attention. Finally, satellite-monitoring of the abundance of open water in the peatlands of the West Siberian Plain and the Hudson/James Bay Lowland is suggested as a likely method of detecting early effects of climatic warming upon boreal and subarctic peatlands.