What are Peatlands?

What are peatlands?

Peatlands are also called bogs, boglands, moors, swamps, swamplands, and fens.

Peatlands are part of wetlands, where water meets the land. Peatlands are underwater. They are made of decomposed organic matter – mostly from plants – in water-logged, low-oxygen, highly acidic conditions, says New Scientist magazine in December 2021.

Peatlands are mostly found in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but they in almost all countries in the world. 

Peatlands cover only 3% of the world’s surface, but they contain nearly 33% of all of the carbon in soil, which is twice as much as the world’s forests.

Peatlands are extremely important because they are carbon rich and they often have high levels of biodiversity – which means that a lot of different animals live there.

When peatlands are underwater, it means that carbon remains in the soil, says Metsahallitus, the group that manages Finland’s state-owned forests for sustainable development. The carbon in the soil is used by plants.

Peatlands are important because carbon is important. Carbon is king. Carbon is queen. Carbon-based compounds form the basis of all known life on Earth. 

In the air we breathe, there is a lot of nitrogen (about 78%), some oxygen (about 21%), and some other gases (1%). Carbon from the peatlands mixed with oxygen in the air makes the invisible gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), which is carbon + oxygyen + oxygen. Carbon dioxide is also called greenhouse gas. 

Plants draw in (breathe in) carbon dioxide from the air and build it into biomass. Animals eat biomass. Biomass is plant and animal material that humans use to make fuel, like electricity. Plants keep the carbon and breath out oxygen. Animals (and humans) breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. That’s why plants and animals need each other. That’s why humans need plants and animals.

The peatlands soil can be metres (feet) thick. Peatlands act like insulation or like mulch in the garden. They store carbon. If peatlands are not healthy, they release carbon into the air. Too much carbon in the air makes the Earth’s temperature rise, which is called global warming.

Peatlands swell (get bigger) when there is more water and shrink (get smaller) when there is less water. It’s like a sponge. This is called natural surface motion dynamics or ‘bog breathing’ which can be measured from space satellites. Like humans, if peatlands are not breathing, then they are not healthy, and it may mean that the peatlands are in danger of dying. If that happens, scientists try to develop restoration programs of ‘re-wetting’ the peatlands to make them healthy again.

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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