Articles | Volume 10, issue 2
Biogeosciences, 10, 929–944, 2013
Biogeosciences, 10, 929–944, 2013

Research article 08 Feb 2013

Research article | 08 Feb 2013

Climate-related changes in peatland carbon accumulation during the last millennium

D. J. Charman1, D. W. Beilman2, M. Blaauw3, R. K. Booth4, S. Brewer5, F. M. Chambers6, J. A. Christen7, A. Gallego-Sala8,9,10, S. P. Harrison9,11, P. D. M. Hughes12, S. T. Jackson13, A. Korhola14, D. Mauquoy15, F. J. G. Mitchell16, I. C. Prentice11,17, M. van der Linden18, F. De Vleeschouwer19, Z. C. Yu4, J. Alm20, I. E. Bauer21, Y. M. C. Corish16, M. Garneau22, V. Hohl1, Y. Huang23, E. Karofeld24, G. Le Roux19, J. Loisel4, R. Moschen25, J. E. Nichols26, T. M. Nieminen27, G. M. MacDonald28, N. R. Phadtare29, N. Rausch30, Ü. Sillasoo31, G. T. Swindles32, E.-S. Tuittila14, L. Ukonmaanaho27, M. Väliranta14, S. van Bellen15, B. van Geel33, D. H. Vitt34, and Y. Zhao35 D. J. Charman et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, EX4 4RJ, UK
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Hawai`i Mānoa, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
  • 3School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK
  • 4Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015, USA
  • 5Department of Geography, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
  • 6Centre for Environmental Change and Quaternary Research, SNSS, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, UK
  • 7Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas, A.P. 402, 36000 Guanajuato, Gto., Mexico
  • 8QUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK
  • 9School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1SS, UK
  • 10Department of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Lund Universitet, Sölvegatan 12, 223 62 Lund, Sweden
  • 11Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2109, Australia
  • 12Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, Hants, SO17 1BJ, UK
  • 13Department of Botany, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, USA
  • 14Department of Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 65, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
  • 15School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK
  • 16Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
  • 17Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College, Silwood Park, Ascot, SL5 7PY, UK
  • 18BIAX Consult, Hogendijk 134, 1506 AL Zaandam, The Netherlands
  • 19CNRS and Université de Toulouse, INP, UPS, EcoLab, ENSAT, Avenue de l'Agrobiopole, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France
  • 20School of Forest Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, P.O. Box 68, 80101 Joensuu, Finland
  • 21Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook, Newfoundland A2H 6P9, Canada
  • 22Département de Géographie and GEOTOP, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, H3C 3P8, Canada
  • 23Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
  • 24University of Tartu, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, Lai 40, Tartu 51005, Estonia
  • 25Institute of Bio- and Geosciences 3: Agrosphere, Research Centre Juelich (Forschungszentrum Jülich), Jülich 52428, Germany
  • 26NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, USA, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964, USA
  • 27The Finnish Forest Research Institute, P.O. Box 18, 01301 Vantaa, Finland
  • 28Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and Department of Geography, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
  • 29Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehra Dun, India
  • 30Institute of Environmental Geochemistry, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 236, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany
  • 31Institute of Ecology, Tallinn University, Uus-Sadama 5, Tallinn 10120, Estonia
  • 32School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
  • 33Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, P.O. Box 94248 1090 GE Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 34Department of Plant Biology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901, USA
  • 35Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China

Abstract. Peatlands are a major terrestrial carbon store and a persistent natural carbon sink during the Holocene, but there is considerable uncertainty over the fate of peatland carbon in a changing climate. It is generally assumed that higher temperatures will increase peat decay, causing a positive feedback to climate warming and contributing to the global positive carbon cycle feedback. Here we use a new extensive database of peat profiles across northern high latitudes to examine spatial and temporal patterns of carbon accumulation over the past millennium. Opposite to expectations, our results indicate a small negative carbon cycle feedback from past changes in the long-term accumulation rates of northern peatlands. Total carbon accumulated over the last 1000 yr is linearly related to contemporary growing season length and photosynthetically active radiation, suggesting that variability in net primary productivity is more important than decomposition in determining long-term carbon accumulation. Furthermore, northern peatland carbon sequestration rate declined over the climate transition from the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) to the Little Ice Age (LIA), probably because of lower LIA temperatures combined with increased cloudiness suppressing net primary productivity. Other factors including changing moisture status, peatland distribution, fire, nitrogen deposition, permafrost thaw and methane emissions will also influence future peatland carbon cycle feedbacks, but our data suggest that the carbon sequestration rate could increase over many areas of northern peatlands in a warmer future.

Final-revised paper