A recent study published in Nature Geoscience says that climate change has contributed to the drying of European peatlands, which spells trouble for Earth’s atmosphere.
Peatlands are wetlands characterized by their peat soil, which is formed by the decomposition of plants in a moist environment over millions of years. Approximately 20% of the world’s peatlands are in Britain and Ireland, but peatlands can be found in almost every country.
Typically, peatlands absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, but as they dry, they can have the opposite effect. Scientists now worry that peatlands will begin releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere.
According to the BBC, peatlands secure approximately five times more carbon than forests, making any release of their stored carbon detrimental to the environment.
Researchers analyzed data from 31 peatlands in England, Ireland and Scandinavia to determine how their composition had changed in the last 2,000 years. They found that most of the peatlands were 40% drier than they had been for the past 1,000 years and 24% drier than they had been for the past 2,000.
"The combined pressure of climate change and human impacts may push these vitally important carbon storing ecosystems into becoming a global source of carbon emissions," lead research Graeme Swindles told the BBC.
The researchers are calling for more effective management and restoration methods in order to protect peatlands and prevent the release of CO2.