Peat, especially from acidic mires (bogs), is a natural archive of past environmental change. Reconstructions of past climate from bogs commenced in the 19th Century through examination of visible peat stratigraphy, and later formed the basis for a postglacial climatic scheme widely used in Northwest Europe. Nevertheless, misconceptions as to how bogs grow led to a 50-year lacuna in peat-climate study, before the concept of ‘cyclic regeneration’ in bogs was refuted. In recent decades, research using proxy-climate indicators from bogs has burgeoned. A range of proxies for past hydrological change has been developed, as well as use of pollen, bog oaks and pines and other data to reconstruct past temperatures. Most of this proxy-climate research has been carried out in Northern Europe, but peat-based research in parts of Asia and North America has increased, particularly during the last decade, while research has also been conducted in Australia, New Zealand and South America. This paper reviews developments in proxy-climate reconstructions from peatlands; chronicles use of a range of palaeo-proxies such as visible peat stratigraphy, plant macrofossils, peat humification, testate amoebae and non-pollen palynomorphs; and explains the use of wiggle-match radiocarbon dating and relationship to climate shifts. It details other techniques being used increasingly, such as biomarkers, stable-isotopes, inorganic geochemistry and estimation of dust flux; and points to new proxies under development. Although explicit protocols have been developed recently for research on ombrotrophic mires, it must be recognised that not all proxies and techniques have universal applicability, owing to differences in species assemblages, mire formation, topographic controls, and geochemical characteristics.
This paper arose from discussions at a Workshop, entitled Peatland Archives of Holocene Climate Variability, held at Vihula Manor, Estonia, May 2009, funded by the US National Science
Foundation, the UK Quaternary Research Association and facilitated by the University of Tartu. A. Martinez-Cortizas, M. Kylander and W. Shotyk provided Pb isotope data and allowed their use in Fig. 5.