Where are peatlands found?

Peatlands are globally important ecosystems and are found in an estimated 180 countries (Parish et al., 2008). Although we know that peatlands are found all over the world, there is no comprehensive mapping of their locations. This is because many peatlands have not been recognized as such and have yet to be properly mapped. To ensure peatlands remain intact, better knowledge and maps are needed on their typology, location and extent. Figure 2 does not reflect the true global extent of peatlands because of the challenges faced in finding and defining them. The consensus among scientists is that there are extensive areas of undiscovered and unreported peatlands. Recent modelling studies indicate that there could be three times more tropical peatlands than current estimates (Gumbricht et al., 2017). This is supported by the recent documentation of huge areas of previously unquantified and unclassified peatlands in Africa and South America. In early 2017, scientists announced that they had mapped the largest peatland complex in the tropics – the Cuvette Centrale swamp forest in the Congo Basin – estimated to cover 145,000 km 2 and containing more than 30 billion tonnes of carbon (Dargie et al., 2017). Similarly, peatlands mapped in the lowlands of the Peruvian Amazon in South America are estimated to cover 120,000 km 2 containing an estimated 20 billion tonnes (Lähteenoja et al., 2011).

of the world this idea is still prevalent. The phrase “drain the swamp” has even become a political metaphor. It is vitally important to recognize that peatlands are not wastelands but essential ecosystems that deliver unquantified benefits, and that protecting them or using them with care does not impinge on development. Developmental choices need to consider that while peatlands represent a relatively small area of overall landmass, they have a disproportionately large carbon storage capability and other benefits that they deliver to climate, people and the planet. The map in Figure 1 only tells part of the story because it only reflects emissions from biological oxidation of peat – emissions from fires are not included. Fires, such as those in Russia and Indonesia, contributes another 30 percent to these emissions. Biological oxidation of peat occurs only when peatlands are drained and degraded. When the water level is lowered, the peat is no longer water saturated, oxygen enters the peat and microorganisms break it down. Previously well-preserved carbon and nitrogen are then released as greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and as nitrate to the surface water. Only 15 percent of the world’s peatlands have been drained yet they are responsible for five percent of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (Joosten, 2015).


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