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Northern peatlands hold clues to the global carbon cycle

Northern peatlands, boggy mixtures of dead organic material and water, represent one of the largest carbon reservoirs in the biosphere. Their dynamics have played an important role in the global carbon cycle from the Holocene era (12,000 years ago) to the current global carbon cycle. The largest northern peatlands occur in the subarctic regions of Canada and Russia.

To learn more about the global carbon cycle, researchers compare current and past carbon fluxes. In this case, they measure the exchange of carbon between the land and the atmosphere. Recently, NSF-funded researcher Zicheng Yu of Lehigh University modeled the records of northern peatlands and found that at five sites, carbon exchanges show much larger values during the last decade than during the last 7,000 years.This suggests that the peatlands are releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

This activity highlights the urgent need for carbon data and understanding of the biogeochemical process, especially at decadal and centennial timescales. Understanding these processes in the past can help understand current and future environmental changes.

The long-term goal of Yu's research is to integrate multidisciplinary data to solve paleoecologic, paleoclimatic and paleohydrologic problems and to link modern processes to the past record of environmental changes.

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  • aerial view of northern peat bogs
Aerial view of northern peat bogs.
Lee Klinger, UCAR

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