Remember when peat bogs were going to release deadly carbon? Never mind.

Readers may recall the NYT sounds of alarm over peat bogs releasing all manners of hellish CO2 into the atmosphere due to warming. Well, they’re all wet. From FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY.

Study: Warming global temperatures may not affect carbon stored deep in northern peatlands

An expanse of wet Sphagnum bog in Frontenac National Park, Quebec, Canada. Spruce trees can be seen on a forested ridge in the background.

An expanse of wet Sphagnum bog in Frontenac National Park, Quebec, Canada. Spruce trees can be seen on a forested ridge in the background.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Deep stores of carbon in northern peatlands may be safe from rising temperatures, according to a team of researchers from several U.S.-based institutions.

And that is good news for now, the researchers said.

Florida State University research scientist Rachel Wilson and University of Oregon graduate student Anya Hopple are the first authors on a new study published today in Nature Communications. The study details experiments suggesting that carbon stored in peat — a highly organic material found in marsh or damp regions — may not succumb to the Earth’s warming as easily as scientists thought.

That means if these northern peatlands — found in the upper half of the northern hemisphere — remain flooded, a substantial amount of carbon will not be released into the atmosphere.

“We do see some breakdown of peat on the surface, but not below 2 feet deep, where the bulk of the carbon is stored,” Wilson said.

The study is part of a long-term look at how carbon stored in peat will respond to climate and environmental change. The team of researchers, led by Paul Hanson of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, includes scientists from FSU, University of Oregon, Georgia Institute of Technology, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service, Chapman University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Researchers ran four different temperature simulations — increasing the temperature of the peat by 2.25 degrees Celsius, 4.5 degrees Celsius, 6.25 degrees Celsius and 9 degrees Celsius — to see how it would respond to increased heat.

They found that the surface peat did emit more methane gas when warmed, but the deep peat did not break down and did not start emitting additional methane or carbon dioxide.

“If the release of greenhouse gases is not enhanced by temperature of the deep peat, that’s great news because that means that if all other things remain as they are, the deep peat carbon remains in the soil,” said Joel Kostka, professor of microbiology at Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Earth’s soils contain 1,550 billion tons of organic carbon, and 500 billion tons of this carbon is stored in northern peatlands around the world. This quantity is roughly the same amount as carbon in the atmosphere.

Scientists have been anxious to learn how these northern peatlands will respond to warming because a tremendous amount of carbon could be released into the atmosphere.

Researchers worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s experimental site known as SPRUCE in northern Minnesota to examine both surface peat and peat up to 6 feet deep. The majority of the carbon is stored deeper in the ground.

FSU Professor of Chemical Oceanography Jeff Chanton worked at a site operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study the effects of global climate change. CREDIT Courtesy of Jeff Chanton

FSU Professor of Chemical Oceanography Jeff Chanton worked at a site operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study the effects of global climate change. CREDIT Courtesy of Jeff Chanton

Large environmental chambers were constructed by the Oak Ridge team to enclose portions of the peatlands. Within these chambers, scientists simulated climate change effects such as higher temperatures and elevated carbon dioxide levels. They also took some of the deep peat back to their labs to heat in additional studies.

While scientists said they were surprised by the results, they also cautioned that this came only after one year of warming.

“There are the necessary caveats that this was only for one year, and the experiment is planned to run for a decade, and other ecosystem feedbacks may become important in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Scott Bridgham, director of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at University of Oregon and Hopple’s adviser.

In the future, scientists also plan to look at how these peatlands respond to heightened carbon dioxide levels combined with the temperature increases.

“In the future, we’ll be warmer, but we’ll also have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so we need to understand how these deep stores of peat, which have all this carbon, respond to these conditions,” said Jeff Chanton, professor of oceanography at Florida State University.

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This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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76 thoughts on “Remember when peat bogs were going to release deadly carbon? Never mind.

  1. So organic material in peat bogs is stable now?

    Thanks to Oden that somebody finally studied that.

  2. Researchers ran four different temperature simulations — increasing the temperature of the peat by 2.25 degrees Celsius, 4.5 degrees Celsius, 6.25 degrees Celsius and 9 degrees Celsius

    They should also should have tried decreasing the temperature as well. We really need to know so if the Earth cools and CO2 is not expelled as fast, coupled with the oceans absorbing more CO2 as they also cool, we may all starve due to substantially decreased CO2 levels.

  3. So the previous reports were based on models, not real testing? So what’s different between this about peat bogs and much of the rest of “climate science”?

    • They also predicted that melting tundra would start spewing out methane. Actual biologists actually went to actual melting tundra and discovered that, when tundra melted, the life in it woke up and became an active carbon sink. Golly gee, the tundra failed to perform as predicted. Now we have to figure out why the tundra acted wrongly. We KNOW the models are right, right?

      • Actual biologists actually went to actual melting tundra and discovered that, when tundra melted, the life in it woke up and became an active carbon sink.

        Got a link?

  4. Paul Westhaver’s picture of one of what I take to be the researchers who produced the report is worrying – clearly he got to close to his work.

  5. hmm?
    so thats a full year,
    but a model or a short term scan prior was plenty to raise merry hell over?
    seems to be all too familiar
    caveat it might??? be worse more fund etc

  6. I’m just a simple caveman, but won’t the peat grow faster with higher CO2 and warmer temps, and thus sequester more CO2, like every other photosynthetic organism on the planet does in those conditions?

    • Peat is the decaying matter generated by growing peat moss. The moss ON TOP will grow faster with more sunlight, and continue to lay down subsequent new growth, but the dead stuff underneath will decompose. BTW it is the bacteria that create methane as they consume the dead peat moss. Due to the higher concentrations of phenolic compounds the moss is somewhat resistant to decay, but it will decay eventually. Now pile the blanket of decaying matter deep enough and you exclude much of the oxygen and force the decay to go anaerobic and slow it down further. Rising temperatures won’t penetrate very far into this insulating blanket, and until it gets churned up and aerated it not going to change much.
      Oxygen is the enemy of carbon not heat.

      • All correct, but strongly enhanced by the fact that sphagnum peat is naturally very acidic as a combination of three biological factors including cation exchange by growing peat. Surface is below pH 5 and typical at depth is pH 3.5.

      • The only ‘risk’ to the deep carbon arises if the temperature becomes warm enough to support agriculture at which point someone may take the opportunity to drain the swamp in order to grow crops. Once drained, the decomposition of vegetable matter could resume, releasing methane and carbon dioxide. This has happened many times all over the world.

  7. I wonder how much of future temperature rises projected by climate models was based on release of CO2 from peat blogs? If any, will these projections now be adjusted?

    • This probably negates most of the higher delta T scenarios. They require the most enhanced temp feedback.

      • No, it’s cagw. /sarc

        The peat I see has grown during the last ten millennia. After glaciation. There was no peat under the mile thick glacial ice.

        Warming is good for peat. Rain is good. GW brings rain and above zero winter temps at high latitudes.

    • That peat drying was caused by long-term drainage projects, not the weather. You’re trying to pin peat fires on climate change when the primary cause of peat fires is local human activity (drainage, clearance, land management and setting things on fire), and when peat fires have been occurring throughout history.

    • Griff, are you in favour of eliminating all carbon based life from the planet? And where do you stand on dihydrogen monoxide?

      I’ve heard a rumour that tomorrow morning right about dawn a giant ball of fire will rise in the sky. Be afraid. Be very afraid … of everything.

    • I suppose unprecedented ha.

      I think the words recent times is correct, but all times is what has actually happened.

      Think about it for a moment, ice age, sea level falls, rains decrease, peat drys out due to low humidity winds, it will burn just fine and much deeper than now. Relax Griff

    • What about the millions of tons of peat excavated in Scotland to build the wind turbine bases and the access roads Grifter?

      I suppose that as it was all done so your paymasters can make huge profits via subsidies, that doesn’t bother you.

  8. I think I detect the Trump effect over the past few weeks, on one hand more shrill, near-to-breakdown dementia articles and blogsmog, and on the other, gee-things – are-better-than-we-thought stuff. Cool. Interesting. Our broken, corrupted social scientists, particularly what used to be psychology, are missing a “Uuuuge” research opportunity.

    • Even James Hansen is dialling it back.

      “The ponderous response of the climate system also means that we don’t need to instantaneously reduce GHG amounts.”

      – James Hansen, “We Hold Truths to be Self-Evident“ December 2, 2016. link

      In addition to psychologists, there are social scientists who study scientists. Unfortunately, they are a bunch of postmodernists who are likely to miss the point. :-( They are happy to find evidence of deniers and ignore all evidence that the alarmists’ supposed science is bogus.

      Fancy that? An artificially maintained scientific controversy … Bruno Latour

      They will squander the opportunity.

      • If one of these social science types were to study climate psychology then he could say “I’m a dude, that’s studying a dude, who is studying another dude, who is thinking about something else.”

  9. At temperatures below about 55° F (12.7° C) water + methane makes ‘methane hydrate’ – a solid. This is partly responsible for the utility of peat as a fuel. The vegetable fibers serve to insulate by preventing convection and reducing conduction, which restricts diurnal warming to a superficial effect.

    • Clathrates are more sensitive to pressure reduction than temperature increase. Falling sea levels would tend to release methane, a negative feedback.

      This is why Clathrates are not considered in CAGW acolyte circles.

    • Are you sure? Looking around the web, it seems that you need pretty high pressure to make methane hydrates at 55°F; much higher than atmospheric.

    • What is taking it away? It doesn’t evaporate. If you mean by the shovelful then, yes, the newly exposed peat will begin to oxidize. It would require some sort of mechanical effort to remove the tangled mass of peat. Compressed peat can be cut into large blocks and transported.

      • The top two feet of peat composts. It gets oxidized to water and CO2 and fertilizing nitrogen compounds, or gets partially oxidized and/or anaerobically metabolized by microbes so that methane is produced in lieu of some or all of the CO2 and water.

    • So sad that all this money is wasted on useless and unnecessary research. How many water wells could you drill in Africa for the same cash? How many lives could they save by doing something useful for a change?

  10. I’m told we are releasing gigatonnes of ‘carbon to the atmosphere. I’m waiting for this rain of bits of unpleasant black stuff. Or have I got it wrong?

  11. The biggest threat to peat bogs is people digging it up and burning it because its cheaper than the fossil fuels that are outrageously expensive because of carbon taxes.

    And … its “renewable”.

    “Peat as a local “biomass” fuel meets most of the demands the Commission has set for the energy policy of the European Community. Peat is produced mostly in remote areas where there is a chronic lack of industrial jobs. Powerful tractors typical in peat harvesting can be used outside the production season in agriculture, road maintenance and in wood transportation. New methods have been developed to establish “biomass terminals” on peat production sites, where wood is collected from the surrounding forests, crushed into chips, mixed with peat and transported to CHP plants. There have been experiments in drying wood chips with the aid of solar energy during the summer on the surface of the peat bog and collecting the air-dried wood chips from the peat fields with the same machines as for peat.

    Especially in Finland, attention has been paid to co-combustion of peat and wood. It has been found that the chemical properties of wood fuel alone may cause certain problems in boilers. Burning peat together with wood helps to control the combustion process and reduce corrosion in the superheater tubes. This is mainly due to the mineral components of peat, which are proportionally higher than those of wood. Some advantage is gained with respect to SO2 emissions when peat is used simultaneously with wood. Many boilers which have been originally dimensioned for combustion of peat cannot meet full capacity with wood only. Thus, a successful increase in the use of wood as fuel in CHP plants depends on the use of peat as well. There are also good reasons to have alternative fuels available on commercial grounds and for security of supplies.”

    Give the EU a few more years and DRAX will be burning peat.

    • I guess that all this is doing is not waiting for natural processes to transform the peat into coal. No big difference unless you realize that you need to burn far more peat to produce the same amount of energy as coal, but it must be remembered by burning peat you will produce far more CO2 to get the equivalent energy.
      This is the same old scam as “biodiesel” which has 90% the energy density as petroleum diesel, which forces you to burn more to get the same…..but it’s GREEN CO2 when biodiesel produces it.
      [facepalm]

    • It’s unbelievable the hoops Greens jump through in order to avoid using conventional electrical generation facilities. What a waste of time, effort and money! Avoid all that insanity and go nuclear.

  12. I question whether the peat below 2 feet actually warmed up? I think the premise of the experiment may be flawed.

    Also, I will add that the open top enclosure is an intersting choice for heating things up; did they overlook convection?

  13. Peat is a very efficient carbon sink, the growing biomass absorbs CO2 at a greater rate than decay can release it..

    • And, thank goodness for the peat bogs of the late carboniferous period! Without them we would not be where we are. Damn good thing the Dinosaurs couldn’t harness combustion!

      • @rocketscientist

        I wonder if that’s that green and good CO2 that everybody keeps mentioning, as oppose to the bad CO2. Lol

  14. Leave it to academic researchers to figure out the most complicated way to accomplish something. My suggestion would have been to stick a CO2 and Methane monitor in Minnesota, one in Scotland, one in Canada, and one in Siberia.

  15. And I wonder in a few years if there will be different research saying something completely different. Again.

    Mark
    minimalistlifestyle.wordpress.com

  16. Buuu … buuuu …. buuu … buuuuu …. CH4! We’re dooooooooooooooomed! DOOOOOOOOmed!

    Whaooooooooooooo …. William!

  17. “In the future, we’ll be warmer, but we’ll also have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so we need to understand how these deep stores of peat, which have all this carbon, respond to these conditions,” said Jeff Chanton, professor of oceanography at Florida State University.
    _____________________________________

    laughable.

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