Climate-related changes in peatland carbon accumulation during the last millennium

D. J. Charman*, D. W. Beilman, M. Blaauw, R. K. Booth, S. Brewer, F. M. Chambers, J. A. Christen, A. Gallego-Sala, S. P. Harrison, P. D.M. Hughes, S. T. Jackson, A. Korhola, D. Mauquoy, F. J.G. Mitchell, I. C. Prentice, M. Van Der Linden, F. De Vleeschouwer, Z. C. Yu, J. Alm, I. E. BauerY. M.C. Corish, M. Garneau, V. Hohl, Y. Huang, E. Karofeld, G. Le Roux, J. Loisel, R. Moschen, J. E. Nichols, T. M. Nieminen, G. M. MacDonald, N. R. Phadtare, N. Rausch, U. Sillasoo, G. T. Swindles, E. S. Tuittila, L. Ukonmaanaho, M. Väliranta, S. Van Bellen, B. Van Geel, D. H. Vitt, Y. Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Peatlands are a major terrestrial carbon store and a persistent natural carbon sink during the Holocene, but there is considerable uncertainty over the fate of peatland carbon in a changing climate. It is generally assumed that higher temperatures will increase peat decay, causing a positive feedback to climate warming and contributing to the global positive carbon cycle feedback. Here we use a new extensive database of peat profiles across northern high latitudes to examine spatial and temporal patterns of carbon accumulation over the past millennium. Opposite to expectations, our results indicate a small negative carbon cycle feedback from past changes in the long-term accumulation rates of northern peatlands. Total carbon accumulated over the last 1000 yr is linearly related to contemporary growing season length and photosynthetically active radiation, suggesting that variability in net primary productivity is more important than decomposition in determining long-term carbon accumulation. Furthermore, northern peatland carbon sequestration rate declined over the climate transition from the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) to the Little Ice Age (LIA), probably because of lower LIA temperatures combined with increased cloudiness suppressing net primary productivity. Other factors including changing moisture status, peatland distribution, fire, nitrogen deposition, permafrost thaw and methane emissions will also influence future peatland carbon cycle feedbacks, but our data suggest that the carbon sequestration rate could increase over many areas of northern peatlands in a warmer future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-944
Number of pages16
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2013

Bibliographical note

This paper is a contribution to the continuing work of PArCH (Peatland Archives of Carbon and Hydrology) and INQUA Project 0804 (Peatlands as Holocene Palaeoenvironmental Archives). The paper was conceived and analyses were initiated at two workshops in 2009 (Vihula, Estonia and Dartington, England)
funded by the US National Science Foundation through a grant to S. T. J. for a Workshop on Peatland Archives of Holocene Carbon and Climate Variability (EAR-0907815), the QUEST (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System) programme of the UK National Environmental Research Council (NERC), INQUA Project 0804, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Past Global Changes (PAGES) project and the UK Quaternary Research Association. D. J. C., A. G. S. and C. I. P. acknowledge NERC grant NE/I012915/1. The paper benefitted from the comments of three anonymous reviewers.


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