You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Warming Peatlands Emit Carbon Faster than Previously Known

Photo of Need photosNeed photosSnapshot : Peatlands occupy just 3 %of the planet but store about 30 %of the soil carbon in terrestrial landscapes. A team of scientists is exploring whether climate change could transform peatlands from a carbon sink to a carbon source and, if so, how quickly.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Kolka, RandySebestyen, Stephen D.
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2020
Highlight ID : 1688


New research findings show that experimental warming causes peatlands to shift from net carbon accumulation to carbon sources faster than anticipated, suggesting that increased rates of global warming will have a significant impact on naturally stored carbon with important feedbacks to the atmosphere. Increased rates of carbon dioxide and methane losses from peatlands could enhance the rate of global warming as those are the two main greenhouse gases causing global warming. In one of the most significant studies emerging from the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) experiment to date, a team that includes Northern Research Station scientists calculated carbon loss rates under four warming scenarios. They found that loss rates are 4.5 to 18 times faster than the rate of historical accumulation at the Marcell Experimental Forest in northern Minnesota. The study provides the first documentation of a clear pattern of carbon loss in a warmer future. An initiative of the Department of Energy, SPRUCE includes 10 open-topped enclosures measuring 40 feet wide and 32 feet tall built on a 20-acre bog on the Marcell Experimental Forest. Climatic and hydrologic data have been collected at monitoring stations on the Marcell since 1960. This provides a unique set of baseline data for scientists as they manipulate conditions in the chambers to simulate a variety of hypothetical climate change scenarios and record a range of effects.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Paul Hanson - Oak Ridge National Laboratory