SMOKE ON WATER
What are peatlands?
Peatlands are known by many names, including the English terms mire, marsh, swamp, fen and bog. The variety in terminology reflects the diversity of peatland habitats and ecosystems (Rydin & Jeglum 2013). Whereas peatlands can simply be defined as “land with peat”, there is currently no globally accepted standard how much organic material “peat” should contain or how thick the layer of peat should minimally be. 1 Both the diversity and the lack of a common standard have made it difficult to identify and collate data and information about them. Even though they look different, all peatlands share a common feature: they have a surface layer of peat which has been formed because permanently waterlogged conditions have prevented the complete decomposition of dead plant material (Joosten & Clarke, 2002).
Peat is a substance that is largely composed of plant remains (vascular plants andmosses) which are only partly decomposed due to an absence of oxygen in a water-saturated environment.
Peat is a compact, high density carbon store that, if managed properly, can be a win for climate action. Historically – and in modern times – wetlands have been seen as wastelands to be drained and converted for more useful purposes, such as agriculture. Development meant draining and in some parts 1 . Varying with country and scientific discipline, peat has been defined as requiring a minimal content (by dry weight) of 5, 15, 30, 50, or 65% of organic material, whereas peatlands have been defined as having a minimum thickness of 20, 25, 30, 40, 45, 50, 60 or 70 cm of peat (Joosten et al. 2017).
2 emissions from peatlands degradation
P APUA N EW G UINEA
Emissions from degrading peat Millions of tonnes CO 2 e 200
50 25 5
Countries with the largest peatland areas Countries discussed in this report
L ÓPEZ , 2017
Source: Joosten H., 2009, The Global Peatland CO 2
Picture. Peatland status and emissions in all countries of the world, Wetlands International.
Figure 1. Emissions from peatlands per country (in Mtonnes CO 2
e). Note that emissions from peat extraction are not included in
the calculations for European countries.
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