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CR 45:13-29 (2010)  -  DOI:

Carbon balance of UK peatlands: current state of knowledge and future research challenges

M. F. Billett1,*, D. J. Charman2, J. M. Clark3,8, C. D. Evans4, M. G. Evans5, N. J. Ostle6, F. Worrall7, A. Burden4, K. J. Dinsmore1, T. Jones4, N. P. McNamara6, L. Parry2, J. G. Rowson7, R. Rose6

1Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian EH26 0QB, UK
2School of Geography, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QJ, UK
3Wolfson Carbon Capture Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK
5Department of Geography, School of Environment & Development, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
6Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Library Avenue, Bailrigg, Lancaster LA1 4AP, UK
7Department of Earth Sciences, Science Laboratories, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
8Present address: Walker Institute for Climate Systems Research and Soils Research Centre, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, School of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 233, Reading RG6 6DW, UK

ABSTRACT: The retention of peatland carbon (C) and the ability to continue to draw down and store C from the atmosphere is not only important for the UK terrestrial carbon inventory, but also for a range of ecosystem services, the landscape value and the ecology and hydrology of ~15% of the land area of the UK. Here we review the current state of knowledge on the C balance of UK peatlands using several studies which highlight not only the importance of making good flux measurements, but also the spatial and temporal variability of different flux terms that characterise a landscape affected by a range of natural and anthropogenic processes and threats. Our data emphasise the importance of measuring (or accurately estimating) all components of the peatland C budget. We highlight the role of the aquatic pathway and suggest that fluxes are higher than previously thought. We also compare the contemporary C balance of several UK peatlands with historical rates of C accumulation measured using peat cores, thus providing a long-term context for present-day measurements and their natural year-on-year variability. Contemporary measurements from 2 sites suggest that current accumulation rates (–56 to –72 g C m–2 yr–1) are at the lower end of those seen over the last 150 yr in peat cores (–35 to –209 g C m–2 yr–1). Finally, we highlight significant current gaps in knowledge and identify where levels of uncertainty are high, as well as emphasise the research challenges that need to be addressed if we are to improve the measurement and prediction of change in the peatland C balance over future decades.

KEY WORDS: Carbon · Peatland · Peat · DOC · Flux · Aquatic

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Cite this article as: Billett MF, Charman DJ, Clark JM, Evans CD and others (2010) Carbon balance of UK peatlands: current state of knowledge and future research challenges. Clim Res 45:13-29.

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