Sulfur Cycling in Boreal Peatlands: from Acid Rain to Global Climate Change

  • Melanie A. Vile
  • Martin Novák
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 188)

12.7 Conclusions

Over the last 6 decades, atmospheric S deposition has peaked in some parts of the world, while simultaneously it continues to impact other regions of the globe. During this same time, we have increased considerably our ecosystem-level understanding of the consequences of atmospheric S deposition on aquatic, terrestrial and wetland systems. Biogeochemical cycling of S is highly complex in ecosystems having predominantly anaerobic zones, yet even in well-drained upland forests, we now know that many of the processes thought only to be dominant in wetlands must be considered to accurately evaluate S fluxes and cycling patterns.

In terms of trace-gas emissions, elevated inputs of atmospheric S deposition may cause an increase in rates of sulfate reduction, but may not cause a shift in peatland C stores from that of net C sink to net C source. The response of peatlands in large parts of Europe and North America, where dramatic decreases in atmospheric S have occurred, may be delayed as the currently large S pools in these peats will continue to provide free SO4 2− for years to come. The net long-term effect then of declining rates of atmospheric S deposition on peatland carbon stores is likely to enhance their potential emissions of CH4, but not of CO2. Current increases in the severity of atmospheric S deposition in large parts of Asia, which contain the fourth-largest global peatland area, are a matter of concern. Specifically, we have shown in North America and in Europe that if a considerable proportion of atmospherically deposited S, thought to be immobilized in soils, is remobilized, acidification of the environment has the potential to continue long after industrial emissions have been eliminated.

Despite our advances, presently we have little data on S cycling dynamics in boreal regions with regard to trace-gas emissions, S stores, and S-Hg interactions, and especially for one region in particular, Siberia. Exploration of Siberian peatlands will undoubtedly reaffirm, readjust, and revitalize our scientific understanding on the role of S on future aspects of ecosystem function.


Sulfate Reduction Acid Rain Sulfur Cycling Sulfate Reduction Rate Simulated Acid Rain 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie A. Vile
    • 1
  • Martin Novák
    • 2
  1. 1.Patrick Center for Environmental ResearchThe Academy of Natural SciencesPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Czech Geological SurveyPrague 5Czech Republic

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