Contemporary carbon fluxes do not reflect the long-term carbon balance for an Atlantic blanket bog

Joshua Ratcliffe, Roxane Andersen, Russell Anderson, Anthony Newton, David Campbell, Dimitri Mauquoy, Richard Payne

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22 Citations (Scopus)
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Peatlands are one of the largest terrestrial stores of carbon. Carbon exchange in peatlands is often assessed solely by measurement of contemporary fluxes; however, these fluxes frequently indicate a much stronger sink strength than that measured by the rate of C accumulation in the peat profile over longer timescales. Here we compare profile-based measurements of C accumulation with the published net ecosystem C balance for the largest peatland area in Britain, the Flow Country of northern Scotland. We estimate the long-term rate of C accumulation to be 15.4 g C m−2 yr−1 for a site where a recent eddy covariance study has suggested contemporary C uptake more than six times greater (99.37 g C m−2 yr−1). Our estimate is supported by two further long-term C accumulation records from nearby sites which give comparable results. We demonstrate that a strong contemporary C sink strength may not equate to a strong long-term sink and explore reasons for this disparity. We recommend that contemporary C sequestration should be viewed in the context of the long-term ecological drivers, such as fires, ecohydrological feedbacks and the changing quality of litter inputs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-149
Number of pages10
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the RSPB, Patrick Sinclair and the Forestry Commission for granting access to the field sites and for help in retrieving the peat cores. Angela Creevy and David Braidwood and volunteers from Forsinard Flows NNR helped with the core collection, while Professor Stuart Gibb, Lara Heppenstall, Dr Chris Hayward and Norrie Russell provided valuable advice and assistance.

This work was primarily funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (grant LG13STIR007), the British Ecological Society and the Royal Society. RP and RA acknowledge support from the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2015-162) and RP was funded by the Russian Scientific Fund (14-14-00891).


  • Flow Country
  • core-scanning
  • peat
  • tephrochronology
  • Scotland


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