Observations and Status of Peatland Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Europe

  • Matthias Drösler
  • Annette Freibauer
  • Torben R. Christensen
  • Thomas Friborg
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 203)

A peatland is a type of ecosystem where carbon (C) along with nitrogen and several other elements has been accumulated as peat originating from the plant litter deposited on the site. A logical consequence of the above definition of peatlands is that they are ecosystems, which by way of nature are a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This is the case because more C is accumulated through photosynthesis than is released through respiration. As a consequence of this, organic matter accumulates as peat. The C accumulated in peatlands is equivalent to almost half the total atmospheric content, and a hypothetical sudden release would result in an instantaneous 50% increase in atmospheric CO2. While this scenario is unrealistic, it nevertheless highlights the central role of peatlands where huge amounts of CO2 have almost entirely been “consumed” since the last glacial maximum, but could respond differently as a result of future changes in climatic conditions. Peatlands have, hence, over the last 10,000 years helped to remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

A complicating factor in this respect is that in terms of the major greenhouse gases (GHGs), peatlands are not just acting as a sink for CO2. The wet conditions that lead to the slow decomposition of organic material and enable peat accumulation to occur, also cause significant amounts of the powerful GHG methane (CH4) to be formed. Indeed global wetlands (predominantly peatlands) are considered to be the largest single source of atmospheric CH4 also when considering all anthropogenic emissions. Peatlands are, therefore, also a key player in the atmospheric CH4 budget and as a result also influence the global climate.


Water Table Particulate Organic Carbon Gross Primary Production Global Warming Potential Peat Profile 
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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias Drösler
    • 1
  • Annette Freibauer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Torben R. Christensen
    • 4
  • Thomas Friborg
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Vegetation EcologyTechnical University of MunichFreisingGermany
  2. 2.Max-Planck-Institute for BiogeochemistryJena
  3. 3.JenaGermany
  4. 4.GeoBiosphere Science Centre, Physical Geography and Ecosystems AnalysisLund UniversitySweden
  5. 5.Department of Geography and GeologyUniversity of CopenhagenDenmark

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