Peat bog gases 'accelerate global warming'

Global warming is set to dramatically worsen because of huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO
2) being released from the world's peatlands, a study has found.

Global warming is set to dramatically worsen because of huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO 2) being released from the world's peatlands, a study has found.

Scientists analysing the huge stores of natural CO 2 locked up in peatlands have found they are being released into the environment at an accelerating rate. At the current rate, the CO 2 released from peatlands will exceed those produced by the burning of fossil fuel as early as 2060.

If no action is taken and the peatland emission of greenhouse gases continues, the scientists estimate there will be no peatlands left by the end of the century and that levels of CO 2 in the atmosphere would have doubled as a result.

The scientists also believe man-made pollution is behind the sudden and unexpected release of CO 2 from the world's major peatbogs, which extend from North America to Siberia.

In a series of seminal experiments published today in the journal Nature, the researchers found that the increase in atmospheric CO 2 seen in recent decades can have a direct impact on destabilising the carbon locked up in peat bogs.

The research is the first direct evidence of a "positive feedback" between CO 2 in the atmosphere and the huge stores of carbon locked up on land, with increases in one causing a corresponding increase in the other.

Chris Freeman of the University of Wales in Bangor, who led the research team, said that a third of the carbon stored on land is locked up in peat and its sudden release into the atmosphere is a major concern.

"We've got an enormous carbon store locked up in peatbogs which is equivalent to the entire store of carbon in the atmosphere and yet this store on land appears to have sprung a leak," Dr Freeman said.

The amount of CO 2 being released from peatlands is accelerating at a rate of 6 per cent per year. "By 2060 we could see more CO 2 being released into the atmosphere than is being released by burning fossil fuel," he said.

In the past, scientists have suggested that increasing temperatures due to global warming or decreasing rainfall is resulting in more carbon being released from peatlands but the latest experiments suggest that increasing atmospheric CO 2 is itself the cause.

Tests on peat samples taken from three different sites in Britain show that increasing the amount of CO 2 in the air around the samples causes the peat itself to emit up to 10 times the amount of carbon it would under normal conditions.

Dr Freeman said peatbogs release carbon in a dissolved organic form. Emissions from peatlands into surrounding rivers and streams has increased by between 65 and 90 per cent over the past six years.

"The rate of acceleration suggests that we have disturbed something critical that controls the stability of the carbon cycle on our planet," he said. Dissolved organic carbon in rivers and water courses can react with the chlorine in water-treatment processes to produce potentially carcinogenic chemicals, Dr Freeman said.

"We've known for some time that CO 2 levels have been rising and that these could cause global warming. But this new research has enormous implications because it shows that even without global warming, rising CO 2 can damage our environment," he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there